ROGERS PARK — Growing up in a Vietnamese-Chinese family, food was always a big part of Tiffany Au's life. Lots of food.
And not individual portions that are common in the United States, but full, shareable pots and bowls full of rice, stews, vegetable medleys and other dishes served community-style.
Now Au's family is bringing its own mix of international flavor, cultural traditions and love of community to Rogers Park with its seafood restaurant Rogers Pier, 6800 N. Sheridan Road, which will have its grand opening at 11 a.m. Monday.
The menu features typical seafood fare like boiled crawfish served in a bag (customizable with spices and vegetables) and grilled platters, but also plays on other tastes like Italian, French, Spanish and Vietnamese. It includes many family recipes created by Au's mom, who serves as the restaurant's general manager.
After settling in, Au said her mom hopes to roll out special menus with recipes she's keeping close to her vest until then.
"We want it to be like, 'Hey going to mom's house, what is she serving up today?'" said Au, who helps run the business end of the restaurant.
Au also heads its charitable initiatives, like its partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
A dollar from some Rogers Pier menu items will be donated to the depository. For each dollar donated to the food bank, the organization can provide a meal to three people.
Not only does Au's family want to provide a guilt-free incentive to check out its new business, but its efforts to help feed those hungry in the city is something deeply important on a personal level as well.
Au, a former real estate agent, said during the 2008 financial crisis her parents divorced and her mother lost her job as the economy took a turn.
"We were on reduced lunches, we were on food stamps and stuff, we know what it's like to be on government assistance. ... That's like all I relied on," Au said. "And I relied on my community to help give back ... that's why community is such a big thing for us."
Au said her mom is a tough woman, and an inspiration to her.
Her mom endured after her divorce and career change, has re-emerged after other restaurants failed, and was even held at gunpoint once during a robbery when she was the manager of a Whataburger in Texas.
Shortly before Rogers Pier opened in early May, Au said the restaurant was one of several Rogers Park businesses broken into, though nothing significant appeared to be taken.
Though they've been through difficult times, Au said it was because of the community that surrounded them and the tenacious nature of her mom that they survived — and they want to help others do the same.
"We're so directly tied and connected to it, and we don't really talk about it that much ... but now I'm at the point in my life where I'm not ashamed about it, I'm not embarrassed about it," Au said. "Without the assistance we received, where would we be today?"
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