ROGERS PARK — Two of the three concrete bricks that shattered Asian Station’s windows in early August now sit by the restaurant’s front door, serving as a painful reminder of the adversity its owner has faced opening, operating and expanding the Rogers Park pan-Asian eatery.
Two weeks after the act of vandalism, Asian Station owner Manasahun Jira “Mjay” Dateprapai was awarded a grant that looks to support LGBTQ+-owned businesses, a boost that came just as the business was working on its next chapter of growth.
Just after midnight on Aug. 9, a man hurled bricks through two windows at the front of the restaurant, 1343 W. Morse Ave., with one window housing a rainbow pride flag display.
It is unclear whether the vandalism was a hate crime. A shopkeeper next door recognized the attacker from the neighborhood, and said he had seen the man dancing in the street hours before Asian Station’s windows were broken, Dateprapai said. In late August, Dateprapai saw him ride past her restaurant on a bicycle.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department reported there are no suspects in custody and the incident is classified as criminal damage to property for the time being.
“Some people say he threw it at the flag,” Dateprapai said. “But, I don’t know. Being Asian and LGBT puts a target on you.”
Asian Station — like many other businesses coming out of the pandemic — has struggled to adjust to the new post-COVID economic climate. The once-cramped takeout spot has spent the past year expanding into a sit-down restaurant. To help pay for the costs of construction, Asian Station applied for and won a $5,000 joint grant given out by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and GrubHub.
Just as everything seemed to be going smoothly for the restaurant, the recent attack added another hurdle to overcome. But with the help of the grant, Asian Station is pressing forward with its expansion plans.
Dateprapai moved to Chicago from Thailand 12 years ago to study at the BIR Training Center, a college in West Ridge. She found work in the food-service industry, starting out as a server before becoming a chef, and eventually opened Asian Station in 2019 and named it for its proximity to the Morse Red Line stop.
Originally a small carryout joint sandwiched between a vacant store front and a currency exchange, Asian Station saw tons of community support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During COVID, we decided to stay open,” Dateprapai said. “A lot of people in the neighborhood were supportive since most restaurants closed. They ordered carryout and delivery, and we were able to manage with a few employees.”
When the currency exchange moved out in 2021, Dateprapai seized the opportunity to expand into the space. After the pandemic, “people wanted a sit-down dining area, and it was perfect timing, so we just took their spot,” Dateprapai said.
This expansion wasn’t without its challenges, however. The costs of refurbishing and moving into the new dining area were upward of $50,000. Retrofitting the tiny restroom in the back of the space to be wheelchair accessible cost the restaurant $20,000.
A ribbon cutting for the new dining area took place over Labor Day weekend.
Dateprapai had to take out loans to pay for the costs of construction, so when the Rogers Park Business Alliance approached her with an opportunity to apply for a grant offering a total of $50,000 to 10 LGBTQ+ owned or allied restaurants and bars across Chicagoland, she took it.
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce sponsors a program known as the Community Impact Fund in conjunction with delivery app giant GrubHub. Only in the second year of the partnership, the fund hands out $1.5 million in grants across the United States annually and works with state chapters of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce for outreach.
Over 700,000 American businesses closed in the second quarter of 2020, according to the Federal Reserve Board. Around 2,500 businesses closed in Chicago alone over the course of the pandemic, many of them restaurants.
Asian Station, as a takeout-only restaurant, thrived during this period of time in spite of the prevailing trends. The difficulty the restaurant experienced was transitioning into a post-pandemic world as sit-down dining slowly became popular again.
Asian Station received confirmation it won the grant in July.
“I did not expect to get the grant,” Dateprapai said, “So it was surprising when I got the call.”
Asian Station received the $5,000 grant in an Aug. 24 ceremony at the GrubHub headquarters in downtown Chicago. Nine other bars and restaurants around the city and suburbs received grants, including the newly opened Marina’s Bistro And Rum Bar, Not Just Cookies, Carver 47 Food & Wellness Market, Bokeh, Flaco’s Tacos, Split-Rail, Vincent Restaurant, Bubby & Sissy’s and Chavas Mexican Restaurant.
Brianna Morris, Senior Community Impact Manager for GrubHub, explained that Asian Station’s grant money can be used both for the restaurant’s expansion and the immediate window repair costs.
“Although the repairs didn’t influence our initial decision,” Morris said, “I’m sure this grant has come just in time for Asian Station.”
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