All photos by Stephanie Rivera.
When Kim Sun Kitchen owner Ryna Mean accepted the offer to become the first Long Beach restaurateur to take part in a countywide healthy eating initiative, she did it with two things in mind: the rise in popularity of health and wellness across various industries and the high rate of diabetes within her family.
“My parents and my mom’s side of the family has a high rate of diabetics,” said Mean. “I figured that if they eat healthy, [...] eating smaller portions will help them with their daily life and their daily living.”
The North Long Beach Chinese restaurant—which also caters to its Cambodian community with dishes such as the Phnom Penh noodles—has been in the neighborhood for roughly 45 years, according to Mean, who started to help run the place 20 years ago when she came to the United States from Thailand. Her uncle owned the eatery for about 25 years before that.
Mean joined the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s voluntary Choose Health LA program about three months ago. As part of the program, restaurants must fulfill three criteria:
- Give customers the option to choose a smaller portion size.
- Offer healthier children’s meals, including fruits and vegetables, healthier beverages and non-deep-fried foods.
- Offer chilled water free of charge.
Chhou Ou, a community health education advocate with The Children’s Clinic, approached Mean with the idea after an outreach meeting with community members who suggested the restaurant.
Ou and Stephani Cook, restaurant program coordinator with the DPH’s First 5 Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative, then worked with Mean in figuring out which dishes the kitchen could make into smaller portions, developing a healthy kids menu, and designing a new menu layout, Cook said. The pair also provided Mean with multiple free materials affiliated with the program.
“We’re making sure the healthy choice is an easy choice,” Ou said.
The Children’s Clinic is one of 20 First 5 LA-funded agencies in collaboration with the Choose Health LA program, and its job includes performing outreach efforts to local restaurants, said Cook. TCC’s sole jurisdiction in promoting the program is Long Beach.
Since the program’s inception in September 2013, the county has collaborated with 750 restaurant locations throughout the county, according to Cook.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Cook. “The restaurant owners, they’re so altruistic, they really want to help their communities, and I mean I worked with so many at this point it just continues to surprise me every day.”
Program personnel mostly recruit smaller restaurants because they have more control over their menus. However, county officials have partnered with Subway because they already offer smaller portions and have a relatively prequalified menu, according to Cook.
Mean said while her regular customers are still getting used to the new menu, business clients have started choosing from the smaller-size menu since it rolled out.
“I think this is a monumental first for Long Beach,” Long Beach Councilman Al Austin said during a ribbon-cutting celebration on Tuesday, February 2. “A partnership that should be applauded. Adding that health designation I think is critical and important and sends a very, very important message to our community and our children and particularly our families here in North Long Beach.”