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As Asian hate crimes spiked in the U.S. this year, actresses Lily Rosenthal and Olivia Sui, friends in life and food, were seeking to support the community in a way that would combine their roots. So they conceived the “Jewish-Chinese Alliance chicken sandwich,” combining fried chicken from Asian-owned Luther Bob’s with challah bread and a side of mini latkes. The response was so positive, recalls Rosenthal — daughter of Everybody Loves Raymond creator and Somebody Feed Phil star Phil Rosenthal — that the duo wondered, “if we can do this for our cultures, why don’t we try to do it for other ones?” And so traveling pop-up Liv a Lil, the pair’s venture to bring restaurants across the city together for tasty and charitable collaborations, was born.
Since May, Rosenthal and Sui have brought together Maple Block Meat Co. and Ken’s Ramen for a brisket ramen; they’ve paired Jitlada and Meals by Genet for a greatest hits menu; and in September had their biggest collab yet, between L.A. favorites Courage Bagels and Pizzana, for a pizza bagel that sold out in minutes. Proceeds for every collaboration (ordered via Instagram DM for pickup at one of the eateries) also go to a charity of the chefs’ choosing, and the effort has helped bring some excitement back to a food scene that has taken brutal hits amid the pandemic.
“Restaurants struggled so much, restaurants closed, and this was an opportunity for us to bring back that restaurant community feel because it was lacking,” Sui, also a member of YouTube comedy group Smosh, says. “People are in desperate need of connection and experiencing something delicious together. What better way to do that than through food?” Rosenthal’s food-famous dad also laid the groundwork, as Lily says when she was growing up, “he would take me to all these restaurants and that’s how I was able to build these connections with the chefs” who are now taking part in the project.
As the two juggle their Hollywood aspirations with their burgeoning food ventures, they hope to take Liv a Lil to New York and one day have their own food festival. “We want people to think of Liv a Lil as a place of happiness, giving back, community, food and love,” Sui says. “That’s truly what it is.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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