By Chris Mohney
Jocelyn “JoJo” Law-Yone and her daughter Simone Jacobson are two of three co-owners of Thamee, the only full-service Burmese restaurant in Washington DC before the pandemic closed it down. See previous interview with JoJo.
JOJO LAW-YONE: Our team may not be unique, but we are a group of people of all ages, ethnicities, and work experiences who genuinely like working with each other. What has worked for us is a light and bright sense of humor—which worked well for us when we were busy sweating to get good food to guests when our restaurant was open, and it’s the dose of medicine that is getting us through these grim days of staying home during the coronavirus.
We are connected by our own private chat room, and the daily quotes, jokes, pics of what they cook, songs, and brilliant humor that are shared are all inspiring.
Restaurants vary in size, location, and philosophy, but staying in contact with each other via Zoom meetings can be helpful if your community is as close as ours in Washington DC. We are all big fans of World Central Kitchen and volunteer with them whenever it is possible.
SIMONE JACOBSON: I am currently organizing in solidarity with the DC Tenants’ Union and the DC Hospitality Coalition. While I am humbled by the brave and brilliant people (mostly women of color) leading the charge for these two critical and collaborative groups, I’m also frustrated that my fellow small-business owner and restaurateur peers are being forced to transform their professional toolkits in unbelievable ways to fill the gap where our governments are failing us.
Restaurant owners specialize in food, beverage, and hospitality, but now we’re being forced into advocacy, policy expertise, and grant writing on top of trying to navigate states of emergency and becoming de facto social service organizations for our own staff members—many from already vulnerable populations and marginalized communities.
It just so happens Thamee’s three co-owners were activists, writers, and educators previous to being restaurant owners. How are others to be expected to not only perform countless new tasks for their own survival, but also to become overnight experts in a confusing game of “chase the dollar” on behalf of restaurant workers and their families who depend on their employers to figure all this out insanely quickly?
José Andrés and the WCK, and DC Central Kitchen teams, are the gold standard of where humanity and hospitality intersect as far as we’re concerned. We aspire to remain their partners, friends, and avid supporters now and in the future!