Modern Day Love Stories: Moonlynn & Yin on Building a Community Together

Modern Day Love Stories: Moonlynn & Yin on Building a Community Together

By Zarah Cheng

Moonlynn Tsai and Yin Chang are partners in every sense of the word. They are partners in life, they are partners in love, and they are partners in work. It is a rare and lucky thing when one is able to find someone that is able to complement them in every aspect of life, but that is just what the pair have been able to do. Together, Tsai and Chang run Heart of Dinner, a nonprofit operation that is addressing food insecurity and loneliness among Asian Elders in under-resourced communities. 

What first started as a supper club in 2015 has since evolved into something much more than simply dinner. In part motivated by the shifting landscape prompted by the pandemic, the two turned their late-night conversations into a movement for positive change and thus, Heart of Dinner was born. With community at the center of the organization, “Heart of Dinner curates and sources culturally thoughtful and nutritious food, then assembles the essential ingredients inside uniquely illustrated brown bags with handwritten love notes attached in the Elders' native languages to respect, honor, and dignify the cultural nuances across the Asian diaspora,” as described on their website’s mission statement

In celebration of Valentine’s day, we spoke to Moonlynn and Yin to learn more about their modern day love story and how they have worked to build such an impactful community together. Read on to hear their story.


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LANG: First, can you introduce yourselves and what you do?


Yin & Moonlynn: We’re Yin and Moonlynn, partners in love, life, and work. Before the pandemic hit, we were constantly working on multiple projects at a time. Yin, a New Yorker through and through, has always been devoted to storytelling. Her career has taken her from acting in movies and TV shows like Gossip Girl, where she’s since advocated the need for more visibility and inclusive representation in Hollywood, to working on storytelling and entrepreneurial projects that nurture community and drive social change.

Moonlynn, on the other hand, grew up as a food industry baby with her parents starting what became the first of a chain of 12 Chinese-American restaurants in San Diego. At first, she tried to carve out different entrepreneurial career paths, doing her best to avoid following in her parents' footsteps, especially after seeing their exhaustion and rare times together as a family. But eventually, she found a way to return to the restaurant industry on her own terms by creating meaningful spaces where she could blend in her own style and artistic expression and foster community.

Together with our shared values and ethos, we combined our experiences and resources to start Heart of Dinner. This nonprofit venture came about from acting on impulse at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, driven by a guttural need to protect and care for the Elders in NYC facing food insecurity, social isolation, and loneliness. Right around the same time, we saw our local restaurants closing down around us in the Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood, hearing heartbreaking stories of families and teams behind these independent shops losing their entire life savings and means for survival.

We knew we had to do something and started cooking culturally thoughtful meals out of our apartment, pairing each meal with personal touches of handwritten notes of love in the Elders’ native languages. It meant the world to us to be able to show love to those who reminded us so much of our own grandparents, and doing so in such a specific way to how we would want our own Grandma and Grandpa to be loved and cared for. Our initial efforts were modest, fueled by our savings and just enough donations to scrape by week by week. And rather quickly, we were able to partner with local small businesses which not only scaled our reach but also supported these independent businesses in a sustainable way. 

Initially, we thought Heart of Dinner would be a temporary pop-up relief effort for maybe just a few months. But as we saw the impact it was having, we kept putting one foot in front of the other, and the next thing you know– we’re steering Heart of Dinner from its grassroots beginnings to a nonprofit organization. So far, with the instrumental support of the most extraordinary community of kind hearted individuals you will ever meet, Heart of Dinner has provided over 180,000 meals across New York City. Our goal this year is to build out Heart of Dinner’s own delivery and logistics infrastructure, and expand to Staten Island by the end of the year, covering all five boroughs before expanding to California in the near future. For us, as a couple, it’s been rewarding to build projects together that not only deepens our bond but also touches lives in the community. 


Valentines day moonlynn tsai yin chang heart of dinner aapi couple lgbtq queer stories

L: How did you two meet? And how would you describe your relationship together?


Y&M: Food plays a huge part in our relationship, from how we first met all the way to showing up in our day-to-day lives over nine years later. Back in 2005, Moonlynn, being Taiwanese American herself, was involved in setting up Pine and Crane, a Taiwanese farm-to-table restaurant in Silverlake. Yin, being a proud half Taiwanese and half Malaysian, ended up visiting the restaurant with her best friend who was a big oolong tea enthusiast and lived nearby. That first visit, while Moonlynn was busy setting up the deli case, Yin walked right up to her and asked if she was Taiwanese – just to double check that the first Taiwanese restaurant concept she’d ever seen in that area of Los Angeles was indeed brought to life by folks with Taiwanese roots. That was technically our “First Meet” or “Meet Cute” as they call it now.

A few months later, Moonlynn organized a private hot pot dinner at the restaurant, on a Tuesday when the shop was closed, and invited Yin and her friend. Purely by coincidence (or kismet!), we both planned to attend Burning Man that same year. Fast forward months later, in a sea of over 70,000 people set up in the middle of the desert, we miraculously found each other at Burning Man, camped as neighbors, and got to know one another better. Up to that point, Yin had only dated men and identified as straight. And Moonlynn was dating women and was extremely closeted. It was at Burning Man where Yin discovered her attraction to women, particularly towards Moonlynn. We now laugh and call it "Burning Man Magic.” 

Back in LA after that defining moment, we would text each other constantly and hang out often. There was this one time we tried beach camping in San Diego, which turned into an all-night-into-morning heart-to-heart in the car after being kicked out of the beach (there were patrol officers involved!), and missing the sunrise because we were parked on the wrong side, and eventually hiking in Torrey Pines and grabbing lunch at one of Yin's favorites, El Pescador. Soon, we were inseparable, not a day went by where we weren’t texting or hanging out, exploring LA, driving to Torrance for bowls of uni rice. Before we knew it, a few months later, we had "the talk" and really quickly after that decided to take the relationship to the next level.

We've been together for nine years as of last October. We’ve always supported each other in our individual endeavors and being each other’s sounding board. But for the past four years, we've been working together on Heart of Dinner in an official capacity. Working with your partner definitely has its own sets of challenges, but not a day goes by where we’re not laughing, being silly, having heart-to-heart conversations, sending each other DMs of puppies or new spots to eat. As cliche as it sounds, we’re each other's best friends, truly, and that extra layer of closeness is a bonus to our love life. 

On a lighter note, we both love food – a lot. It's not unusual for us to drive hours just to try out a new restaurant or use our favorite foods as a peace offering after the occasional small argument haha. We weren’t kidding when we said that food plays a huge part in our relationship! 


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L: What do you find the most LANG/beautiful about your partner?


Moonlynn: Aside from being the most supportive, loving, fair, beautiful – I could go on and on – partner, Yin radiates. Anyone who gets to know her and experiences her love is so lucky. She’s also one of the funniest people I've ever met! My stomach hurts everyday from laughing. Yin is a powerhouse. Once she puts her mind to something, or an idea she wants to pursue, she's committed and will see it all the way through and beyond – and it's so incredibly inspiring and such an honor to be able to go through life with her!

Yin: What I love most about Moonlynn is the depth to her thoughtfulness. She has an innate ability to make sure that everyone around her feels looked after, comfortable, and genuinely included. There’s a warmth and gentleness to her that makes people feel at home. And she spoils me with the best homemade meals ever – breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I also love her sense of curiosity and play. Whether we’re exploring new places, trying out new food spots, or spontaneously going somewhere (anywhere!) on a whim – it always feels like an adventure, and they’re my favorite times I look forward to. Not only is she drop-dead beautiful, her heart and spirit is equally unparalleled and I’m so lucky to do life with her. 


Valentines day moonlynn tsai yin chang heart of dinner aapi couple lgbtq queer stories

L: If there was one thing about love that you could tell your younger self, what would it be?


Moonlynn: Trust that you deserve and will receive the type of love you want. It might not happen right away, but trust that it will. Manifestation is powerful! (I say that now, but I didn’t realize it was possible until I met Yin.)

Yin: Never stay in relationships that make you feel muffled or small.

L: What is your most cherished memory with your partner?


Y&M: There are SO many! We’re both so busy all the time and even though we see each other almost 24/7, there’s nothing like quality time together as a couple with no work involved. And so we really appreciate those quiet moments together. But at the top of our list would definitely be all the small magical kismet moments that led our paths to cross and find each other. Oh, we also take the most epic road trips, including one that involved an overnight stay in a New Mexico Walmart parking lot where we almost got abducted, but that’s a story for another day!


Creative Credits
Photographer: Melora Chang


Shop Moonlynn & Yin's Looks

Victoria x Yat Pit Mockneck Zip-Up Sweater

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Victoria Queenhead Zip-Up Hoodie

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