Francesca Hong Running for the 76th Assembly District
The Home Stretch
Francesca Hong will be the first Asian American in the
Wisconsin legislature when she assumes the 77th
Assembly Seat in January.
“I started my first service-industry job hosting at a small restaurant on the near west side called Mystic Grill,” Hong said. “I went to Macalester College briefly in
St. Paul and then transferred back to UW-Madison. And while I was in school, I always worked restaurant jobs to help pay for school. One day, a line cook didn’t
show up for his gig on the salad line and I jumped on and fell in love with it. I felt like I belonged. I felt very much like I was in solidarity with this new community
of workers. And I just started working my way through tons of restaurants downtown and eventually became the executive chef at 43 North Restaurant and that’s
where I met my partner. And he and I in 2016 partnered with Shinji Muramoto and opened our ramen shop at a restaurant space on King Street that I thought if I
ever opened a restaurant, it would be there. I think the size is perfect. I loved the location and it is a gallery space, so you walk in, it’s cozy and it’s perfect for a
ramen shop. In 2016, we opened and it was also the same year I had my son. I felt like my family expanded by 24 people that year.”
Like all restaurants in Dane County, Hong’s restaurant has been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions. It has forced her and her partner to be flexible and adaptive
as they sought to have their business survive along with their employees.
“Our team is incredibly resilient,” Hong said. “I knew the day before Governor Evers’ safer-at-home order, we decided to close indefinitely and protect our
community and our workers to the best of our abilities. After receiving a PPP loan, we reopened as a community kitchen. And so in terms of coping with the
pandemic, we’ve been reimagining and restructuring. We’re trying to find as much positivity and opportunity as we can during these times. The pandemic has
brought us to reckoning with what the role of our business is in our community. What are the responsibilities that we hold to this community? Being able to bring
back our workers, create meals and have folks pick them up top take them to places where we knew that they had the means and resources and the relationships
to deliver them to our vulnerable neighbors. We were fortunate to be a part of that program. From that, we founded Cook It Forward and so, I would say that we are
coping okay. We reopened our business where we do carryout. Most of our work right now is making meals for the community. And I am supporting folks the best
we can. The business from carryout does okay. And the Cook It Forward program helps with making meals as well. So we are restructuring and there is a lot of
transitioning happening and we are relying on the team at the restaurant to really continue to be resilient and do the meaningful work in terms of feeding people.”
As with her business during the COVID-19 era, Hong took a more collectivist approach to running for office, an approach that allowed her to have a greater reach
in an election that was hardly ordinary given all of the restrictions.
“I think the more struggle that I saw in the community — there was so much uncertainty — for me, I felt there was a call to action to remind folks that we are all
capable of change and adjusting to transition and meeting uncertainty with transformation and strong leadership and that is what we needed,” Hong said on the
reason that she ran. “And so I surrounded myself with an inexperienced team, I won’t lie, but we all had different lived experiences and we valued a lot of the
same things in terms of working together. Leadership is only as good as their team. And leadership really followed their team. For me, there was no other option,
but when leadership calls your community, you step up. And that is what I tried to do. We were fortunate to have a community that really resonated with that
message. And they showed up. It’s wild. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of support. But this amount of support means that I have a deeper
responsibility to make sure to be held accountable for the policies that I stand by and the work that I am going to do.”
Hong began to plan her fall campaign the day after the August primary. While she will be visible within her district, again she feels a collective responsibility to get
likeminded people elected in November.
“I’ll be actively campaigning for myself for November on a smaller level than I will in terms of identifying where my resources are needed in supporting seats
across the state,” Hong said. “You’ll see on my campaign guest appearances from candidates from across the state, from candidates in this city. I had planned on
engaging with the other candidates in the race to make sure that their policies and the issues that are important to them, that we integrate them into my platform.
We’ll be making efforts of sharing the table, which is where I invite leaders across different communities to have a conversation about issues they care about and
also cook a recipe that we come up with together. I engage on social media quite a bit with other candidates and really just trying to make sure that come
November, we not only have a new president, but we have a much more diverse state legislature as well.”
Next issue: Campaign issues and AAPI community involvement
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Francesca Hong, running as a Democrat for the 76th Assembly District in November, is a virtual shoo-in to
be the next representative from the area although she has a Republican challenger due to the
demographic and political makeup of the district, which covers much of the isthmus area.
Hong is not a politician. She is a worker and a small business owner who defeated a field of six other
candidates, two of whom are elected office holders. Hong won in spite of living outside of the district,
although the business she and her partner own, Morris Ramen on King Street is within the district.
Hong was born and raised in Madison, a second generation Korean American. And although she is college-
educated, at heart, she is a worker.