Second-generation Wisconsinite, community organizer, and local business owner Francesca Hong would like to represent the 76th Assembly District in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
“I’m 31 now and I’m seeing this district, everything important that has happened to me has happened in this district. I’m seeing a lot of great work being done by organizations in this area,” Hong told Madison365.
Hong’s campaign platform focuses on labor rights, a long-term COVID-19 recovery plan, rehabilitation programs, and combatting mass incarceration. As a local restaurant owner, her policies focus on small businesses and the arts while addressing structural changes to programs that create social safety nets.
Hong’s parents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s so her father could pursue a doctorate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She and her family lived on the west side of Madison. Hong attended Shorewood Hills Elementary and Hamilton Middle School.
“At that time, I had no idea we had some of the wealthiest and poorest kids in the same school,” she said.
Hong said her parents always demonstrated hard work and perseverance. Hong witnessed her mother’s journey as a stay-at-home mom who would receive a degree in education at UW-Madison, later becoming a public-school music teacher for over a decade.
Hong pursued her own dream of becoming a full-time, professional chef in 2009. She tried to take advantage of working and learning from chefs in kitchens. Hong started in low-wage, no benefits positions in the dish pit.
“I never really got what working-class was. Most of the industry jobs I worked in never really gave me benefits. I just knew I wanted to work,” she said.
Hong maintained four part-time jobs at one point in her career. She said a lot of service industry workers did not have benefits. Hong said she also didn’t have benefits when she was pregnant.
“We relied on our parents a lot, my husband and I when we didn’t have money, and I know that’s not the case for a lot of people,” she said.
Hong slowly worked her way down the line as a line cook, sous chef, and eventually one of the youngest and first female executive chefs at 43 North Restaurant. Hong and her husband Matt Morris opened Morris Ramen in downtown Madison in December 2016, six months after the birth of their son.
“Once I opened up a restaurant, that’s when I realized I really want to make a change,” she said.
As Hong’s staff became engaged in the community, she did too. She focused on building relationships to help connect her staff with local resources. Hong also included her staff in discussions about the restaurant and increased transparency about the financial trajectory of the business.
“The restaurant has become a community space and I realize that’s beneficial to me as a restaurant owner and empowering to workers,” she said.
Hong also found support amongst professional female and non-binary chefs, cooks, food and beverage producers, growers, and artisans located throughout the state. In 2016, she founded the Culinary Ladies Collective (CLC) alongside colleagues Tami Lax and Laila Borokhim.
Hong’s mission to empower workers and her colleagues in the service industry inspired her determination to find equitable solutions for issues facing Wisconsin’s residents. This includes reaching out to diverse communities such as Hmong and African American leaders to help increase communication with political leaders.
“There’s no common ground when the ground is different for everyone, it’s about shifting racial and ethnic lines,” Hong said.