Ben Lin is struggling with the wanderlust that accompanies not being able travel during a global pandemic. Mostly he misses the food from Southeast Asia, one of his favorite regions to visit. In response, Lin and Arin Noble, his business partner at B. Lin Catering, rolled out “staycation platters” that they sell for pickup and delivery on Saturdays. They sold out the first two weekends and are on track to sell out again this weekend as well.
The overstuffed aluminum trays are packed with treats. Find lumpia Shanghai from the Philippines as well as a mound of purple rice that’s flavored with ube, a popular Filipino ingredient. Lin grew up eating Filipino food in Virginia Beach, where there’s a robust Filipino American population. Also look for Thai chicken satay and butternut squash panang curry as well as vegan Vietnamese garden rolls filled with tofu, mint, basil, and cucumbers.
A few dishes come from other Asian countries, including Korean braised short rib (galbi jjim) and Korean-style fried chicken, crab rangoon, vegetarian fried rice topped with a sunny-side up egg, and Singapore noodles with jumbo shrimp that Lin’s grandfather used to serve at his Chinese American restaurant in Chesapeake, Virginia when he first immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong.
The large staycation platter serves four to five people and costs $70, and the small serves two to three people and costs $50. Lin’s intention is for families or small groups to dig in at safe home gatherings. “It’s a lot of food,” Lin says. “We tried to weigh it. The large weighs seven to eight pounds and the small is about four to five pounds of food. We could cut back, but I portion to what I like eating.”
Customers can tack on a basil and gochugaru (red chili pepper flake) daiquiri or a lemongrass gin & tonic from bartender Paul Gonzalez. Two-portion cocktails cost $12 and four-portion cocktails go for $20.
B. Lin Catering’s staycation platters are also a means to an end. Like most catering companies, its business dropped off dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally the company books up to four weddings per weekend during its busy season. B. Lin also typically has a steady stream of corporate events to keep money streaming in.
Making the switch to direct-to-consumer sales has emerged as a common tactic for caterers in the region including Très Creole, Creative Catering DC, and Recess Catering and Events.
Lin’s background is in finance but he’s always loved cooking for others. In 2008, when he still had an office job, Lin started moonlighting as a private chef. “My sister connected me with a friend who was a clerk at the Supreme Court,” Lin says. “There weren’t a lot of options where the Supreme Court is located and people were looking for healthy lunch options.” The workers at the nation’s highest court would pay for the ingredients and Lin would turn them into meals.
Four years later, Lin launched a supper club that grew to be popular. He committed to his new career path and decided to go the catering route over opening his own restaurant. He grew the company into the large operation it is today with the help of Noble, who joined in 2013 and serves as chief operating officer.
Staycation platters are available for pick-up at 2410 T St. NE, and delivery is currently available from 5 to 8 p.m., but Lin says he may extend the hours in the future. Keep track of developments on B. Lin’s Instagram account. Customers must place pre-orders online by noon on Fridays.
B. Lin Catering, 2410 T St. NE; (202) 838-3133; blincatering.com