Ben Pierce jumped out of bed early Sunday morning.
The water pipe in the Filipino food truck he operates with his son had burst the previous night, and he needed to clean the mess and make repairs before church.
Pierce parks the World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck nearby, at the home of his parents, who have lived in the same Layton neighborhood — south of Antelope Drive and east of Hill Field Road — for decades.
“When I got there, I thought I saw some scribbles on the passenger side of the vehicle,” Pierce said. “But I didn’t think much about it.”
It wasn’t until his distraught parents, Erlinda and Paul Pierce, came to the front door, that he took a closer look.
Sometime Sunday between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., vandals had taken a can of white spray paint and scrawled anti-Asian messages across the length of the vehicle.
There was shock and then hurt.
At the time, though, Pierce remembers being more concerned about comforting his aging parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines nearly 40 years ago.
“The look on my dad’s face... he’s 93 and nearly in tears,” Pierce said. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll paint over it.’”
Community rallies to help
After walking around the truck a few times in disbelief, Pierce photographed the damage and then went home to break the news to his 21-year-old son, Brevin, who owns the truck with him.
Born and reared in Utah, Brevin found the message that Asians should “leave” particularly gut-wrenching. “He was overwhelmed,” said Pierce, who once again found himself consoling family. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it on Monday.’”
It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that Ben Pierce’s fiancee, Erin Cotter, convinced him to post the photos on social media.
It didn’t take long for the post to go viral, with thousands of people drowning out the hate with words of unity.
Neighbors called to say they would repaint the truck. Customers set up a crowdfunding account so people could donate money. (It has nearly $4,000, twice its original goal.)
“There is no excuse for ignorance, hatred and vandalism,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “Just know that the jerks who did this to you definitely don’t represent the majority of the people in this area.”
“Stay strong,” wrote another person, “and know you have a lot of love and support behind you.”
Food businesses and Layton City Council members stepped in and strategized on how to help. Even Utah Jazz player Jordan Clarkson stepped in to assist.
The Pierces didn’t expect the outpouring of support.
“I can’t even tell you how really emotional it’s been,” said Pierce, who received his restored food truck Friday. It was delivered just time for it to roll into Saturday’s Philippine Independence Day Celebration.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Salt Lake City’s Jordan Park, 1060 S. 900 West, and is expected to have a larger-than-normal crowd because of the national media attention that came to the Yum Yum Food Truck.
Food truck burglarized twice before June 6
Ben and Brevin Pierce started their food truck in August 2020, hoping to share their family’s traditional recipes like sisig rice bowls and lumpia egg rolls.
While beginning a new business is always tough, the truck struggled more than most. Pierce said the operation didn’t qualify for pandemic-related grants or loans, so father and son “scrounged up” enough money from family and friends to buy an old food truck.
“We keep it running as good as we can,” he said. “That’s why we don’t go to Salt Lake very often. We pretty much stay in Layton and Clearfield.”
Not long after launching, the generator was stolen. They scrambled to buy a new one and this time welded it to the truck. But thieves returned, he said. “They broke inside and took all the cooking equipment.”
Still, their customers and community had their back.
“We work six days a week, 12 hours a day, in the dead heat,” he said. “The people that see us and buy food from us know what we’ve been through and how hard we work. So to say, ‘We got you,’ and, ‘You are our family,’ that’s priceless.”
When Mayor Joy Petro heard about the June 6 vandalism, she drove to the Pierces’ home. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” she said, adding that after talking with Paul and Erlinda, “I found out they had not called the police — they didn’t want to bother the officers on Sunday.”
Petro offered to make the call. The family agreed.
Layton Police Lt. Travis Lyman said Friday that officers have not identified any suspects but are still treating the vandalism as a possible hate crime and have offered a $500 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.
More anti-Asian rhetoric has surfaced over the past year as people blame China for the pandemic. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino reported a 149% jump in anti-Asian hate crimes in large cities across the United States in 2020.
Petro is pleased — but not surprised — how her community has rallied for one of its own. Layton is not only the largest city in Davis County but one of the most diverse, she said. “It shows us that we need to look out for our neighbors. It takes all of us to be aware and do what we can to help one another.”
Yum Yum is rolling again
When Dan Workman, a Layton resident and owner of Identity Graphx in Salt Lake City, heard about the vandalism, he offered to give the Yum Yum truck a custom vehicle wrap, worth about $5,000.
“As a small-business owner, it’s heartbreaking to see what happened to them,” Workman said. “I don’t usually get the opportunity to help with something like this. So it was an easy decision to reach out and take care of them.”
On Wednesday, Clarkson, a Filipino American with thousands of followers in the Philippines, posted on Twitter that he was hurt by the vandalism and knows the pain that hateful language and racism cause. He also offered to pay for the wrap.
Workman wouldn’t let him.
Instead, Cotter, Ben’s fiancee, said the NBA star paid for the interior of the truck to be detailed, sent a check (an undisclosed amount) to the food truck owners as well as an autographed photo. The Utah Jazz also have invited the truck to make lunch for the team next week.
With the Jazz in the second round of the NBA playoffs and Clarkson just named the league’s 2021 Sixth Man of the Year — racial hatred was a topic before Thursday’s game on ESPN’s “SportCenter.”
“There’s just no room for that, especially right now,” he told reporters. “We ain’t got no room for hate. ... It’s got to go out the window real quick.”
Maybe the experience of a food truck from Utah will get that ball rolling.