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At CT Pan-Asian Restaurant Blue Orchid, Inclusivity and Art Combine for Comfort (Food) and Community

NEW HAVEN — It’s been a while since New Haven’s Amy Henderson has performed her brand of alt-folk music live — not since she moved to the Elm City from Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in the years since, Henderson, who performs as Amy Love, said she found such strong community and connection with downtown restaurant Blue Orchid, she decided that was the place to once again get behind a microphone and in front of a crowd.

“It’s been really nice to find community and be in such a comfortable space,” said Henderson. “I think that’s where I felt ready to kind of revisit the artist in me and kind of take that back because really, it’s with my friends. It’s like my home bar. So, I’m very excited.”

Henderson will perform at the 130 Court St. restaurant on Sept. 30. Her lyrics will then be displayed on the walls of the restaurant through mid-October.

Henderson describes her music as “pretty folk-y” and said that she’ll be performing many songs from an album she recorded in October 2020. She cites Joan Baez, John Prine and Brandi Carlile among her influences. 

“The songs are pretty intimate,” she said. “Some of them are funny. Some of them are really on themes of love and loss.”

Blue Orchid Cafe opened in December 2020. It’s co-owned by husband-husband team Michael Flora and Natthawut “Kyu” Tipjak. Tipjak is from Thailand and has a background in food science. He pulls from his own heritage in dishes like khao soi — a curry noodle soup served in Laos and northern Thailand — but he also looks to inspiration in comfort foods and dishes from across East and Southeast Asia and their diasporas.

Flora said they didn’t set out to create a community space with their restaurant but it happened organically.

“You always want to be inclusive and welcoming, but I think the way my husband and I are, it just kind of came across more genuinely so that we made deeper connections with a lot of our customers,” he said. “And I think that’s kind of where, where the sense of community is coming from. Plus, we are, at least, I am, unapologetically who I am. So, I’m a married gay man and we fly the pride flag and welcome everybody.”

Flora said that has included a transgender woman having her first meal out as a woman, but also a straight couple who come in regularly. It’s through talking with customers that Flora launched the restaurant’s artist-in-residence program.

“One of our customers was a traveling social worker,” he said. “She was an artist as well. And she was just basically going home to kind of close out her house and sell it, and she had all this art that she was going to sell while she was down there, and I told her, ‘You know, if you have pieces you want to keep and you don’t want to put them in storage, I’ve got blank walls. Just put them up.'”

Flora said that while most residencies focus on visual arts, Henderson will not be the first to perform.

“We had one artist who did a visual display, but then for her opening, she actually sang a song,” he said. “But this is the first one that is just solely (based on) performing arts. We’re a new business, and so we’re trying to do whatever we can to bring in more customers. We’re always open to new things. And having Amy, because she’s one of our customers turned into our friend…having her be the first one is really kind of special for us.”

Henderson, meanwhile, encourages people to come see her perform, and also to seek out their own Blue Orchids.

“Anyone who is looking to connect, connect local and support the people around you,” she said. “If that’s not the Blue Orchid, find other places that really resonate with you and help build up a community for yourself.”

Source : New Heaven Register