The pandemic was hard enough for Elise Letavish and her husband, Saeed Ashrafzadeh, who together own Ashling Kitchen and Bar in Crofton, Maryland.
They had opened their restaurant less than a year before COVID-19 shut everything down, providing easy access to a commercial kitchen that helps their catering business, which derives a lot of business with concert halls around the D.C. region.
With their business in danger of dying, Letavish was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer — which meant she was in danger of dying, too.
But now, a year-and-a-half later, things are looking up for the Crofton couple, both in terms of business and in health. Inspired by the support they got through the pandemic, and startled by what’s happening in Ukraine, the two wanted to figure out how they could help.
“Wheels started turning, we started talking to people and we started to realize that the American Cancer Society needed some help with displaced Ukrainians’ cancer treatment,” Letavish said. “Fighting through cancer myself, I knew how intense it could be to skip a treatment. It’s life-threatening.”
On top of donating directly to the American Cancer Society, Ashling is auctioning a pair of $1,000 cocktails this weekend. The drink itself is the signature cocktail on their menu, but it also comes garnished with a $100 gift card to the restaurant and a pair of tickets for Chris Rock later this month at Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House.
Bidding runs through the weekend at the restaurant: “All of the proceeds will go to charity,” said Ashrafzadeh.
Next week, the restaurant’s “Around the World” series of dishes, which features new dishes from around the world every six weeks, will feature Ukrainian dishes. A portion of these dishes will be donated to the American Cancer Society.
“We decided to somehow incorporate what we do at the Lyric, incorporate what we do at the restaurant, and find a way to give back,” Letavish said.
The fundraising plan came together in weeks, after the couple heard about what the American Cancer Society is doing to help the estimated 179,000 Ukrainian cancer patients whose treatment has been disrupted by the violence.
“Missing an appointment really can mess up your regimen of your next 10 to 15 appointments,” she added.
“This is something they weren’t even looking for in terms of the financial aid efforts,” said Ashrafzadeh. “The reaction, it was great.”
“They were so excited,” added Letavish. “They’re amazing … they were super excited to bring light onto what they’re doing.”
The hope is not only that the fundraiser will be a success, but that it’s the first of many such collaborations in the future.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to receive an outpouring of help from the community, from our staff, from the hospitals, from financial aid organizations,” said Ashrafzadeh. “When we were at our lowest point a couple years ago, and Elise was at her obvious lowest point, we are fortunate enough to be able to bounce back. We just think it’s the right thing to do to be able to give back.
“We have it really good here,” said Ashrafzadeh. “When you look at what’s going on outside of where we are, we just have to be willing to all get together and rally around and support in any kind of way.”