Feb 17, 2022 - Food and Drink

Food justice activists cook up new mission for Philly's Golden Dragon

Workers inside the Golden Dragon takeout restaurant in West Philadelphia.
Workers inside the Golden Dragon takeout restaurant in West Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of the Golden Dragon

A trio of Philadelphia food justice activists recently revived Golden Dragon, a West Philly takeout restaurant that closed at the start of the pandemic.

Why it matters: The new owners are prioritizing affordability. Despite increasing food prices and inflation, no items on the restaurant's menu cost over $10.

The big picture: More than 16% of Philadelphians are food insecure, lacking consistent and reliable access to enough healthy meals. But that figure is estimated to be as high as 21% because of the pandemic.

  • "In its simplest form, we want to provide an alternative experience to find food in the neighborhood," Jeremiah Jordan, one of the new owners, told Axios. "We don't have things like candy bars and junk food that most other [take-out] places have."

Driving the news: Jordan, Heidi Ratanavanich and Rachelle Faroul opened the new Golden Dragon last month with a revamped menu.

  • The former owners sold exclusively Chinese food, but the trio is expanding its offerings to encompass more of the Global South, with Thai, Haitian and American dishes in addition to Chinese.
  • The new menu offers quick bites, such as kimchi egg and cheese sandwiches, burgers, curry bowls, fried sweet plantains and tod mun (Thai fish cakes).
Egg over rice with kimchi. Photo courtesy of Golden Dragon
Egg over rice with kimchi. Photo courtesy of Golden Dragon

How it started: Ratanavanich and Jordan — who were behind the Lucky Bundle sandwich pop-up during the summer of 2020 — had started looking for a storefront to start a food business that fall.

  • Ratanavanich was alerted to the closed Golden Dragon shop by a friend and saw it as an opportunity. Since the restaurant already existed, they could save on start-up costs, like new equipment.
  • She reached out to Faroul, who has a background in food-buying and fishmongering.
  • The three signed their lease in March 2021 and held a soft launch last December before formally opening to the public.

Of note: They get most of their food from other local businesses and distributors like Merzbachers Bakery, True Love Seeds and the West Philly Bunny Hop.

  • Their aim is to have dishes that are thoughtfully sourced and developed from family recipes.

One dish, called Al's Fried Rice, originates from Ratanavanich's family restaurant, Al's Drive-In outside of Chicago. It's made up of rice, scallions, onions, egg and a choice of meat or vegetables.

  • "It's easy to provide at a reasonable price, and it's filling," Ratanavanich said. "Symbolically, I think that's beautiful, and it's really special to me to be able to continue this dish in this new iteration of Golden Dragon."

How it's going: Jordan said they experienced their first big rush of orders for Super Bowl weekend. They sold party packs of banh mi beef sliders, fried rice, papaya salad and jalapeño poppers.

  • "We're learning, and it was the first time we did pre-orders," Jordan said, adding that he was happy with the turnout.
  • They've also started partnering with local organizations like Bunny Hop, which distributes free groceries out of their space every Monday.

What they're saying: Faroul told Axios that the multi-cultural aspect is her favorite part.

  • "There's the significance of people coming in here and seeing Black people in the back working with woks and people do take a pause," she said. "People watch us, and I think it's incredible."

What's next: The trio is gearing up to launch a food pantry inside the restaurant for the community.

  • Although not required, there will be an emphasis on providing food to people who rely on food stamps.

Visit: 5260 Rodman St., Philadelphia. Open Thursday-Saturday from 8am-2pm for breakfast and 4-8pm at dinner. It's also open Sunday from 9am-2pm.

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