Dishes like garlicky shrimp and grits with maple-glazed bacon, Nashville hot chicken with pull-apart malasadas, and loco moco with short rib and French onion gravy would be reason enough to support a restaurant, even in a city like Costa Mesa that has one of Orange County’s best food scenes. For chef John Park, good food wasn’t nearly enough at Toast Kitchen & Bakery, his modern diner, or at neighboring Fill, a sister spot that specializes in ice cream and fresh-piped malasadas. The seasoned chef previously worked with L.A. restaurants like Father’s Office, Lukshon and Water Grill and is now channeling his faith into multi-layered charity with this burgeoning business.
“I’m very blessed – friends, family, money – I’m not rich by any means, but I have a lot,” Park says. “I’m fortunate and blessed and others are not so fortunate and blessed, so what can we do to help out?”
Park and his family relocated to Orange County two years ago and sold two branches of Quenelle ice cream shop and Poke Stuf in the process. He surveyed the culinary landscape, got a sense for the issues facing locals and determined how he could help. “O.C. is my community right now,” Park says. “My goal is to address issues like homelessness, drug addiction, food insecurity, and poverty. Community is everyone, not just the people that you like.”
For a year-and-a-half, Park hosted pie pop-ups at places like Anaheim Packing District, Burnt Crumbs, and Tacklebox, donating proceeds to two charities. Faces of Santa Ana, a non-profit from Park’s fellow Newsong Church member Brian Peterson, paints portraits of homeless people in Santa Ana, and once those paintings sell, proceeds go into an account for them. Park also worked with Bill Bracken of Bracken’s Kitchen, who used to be a restaurant chef in L.A. and now delivers nutritious meals to impoverished children.
Wahoo’s Fish Taco co-founder Ed Lee is an investor in Tacklebox. He learned about Park’s pie-fueled charity. As luck would have it, Lee was also in the process of purchasing The Golden Truffle, one of Orange County’s first fine dining restaurants.
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“One day out of the blue he asked if I’d be interested in running it,” Park says. “I’d never met the guy before.” Originally, Lee was thinking of featuring a pie shop, brunch from Tacklebox chef Brian Huskey, and cocktails at night. “I told him, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Park says. “I can do all three concepts; I just need a little help with the bar.”
Enter James Mullis, a native Hawaiian who wondered why good malasadas were so hard to come by outside his home state. These soft, Portuguese-inspired donuts have proliferated on the islands and are frequently filled with fruit jams and custards. He also has bar expertise from time as Wahoo’s beverage director and Morton’s bar trainer. He connected with pastry chef Lincoln Carson a few years back and committed to malasadas. Coincidentally, Park staged for Carson at DB Brasserie in Las…