Three years ago, Layla Ali-Ahmad, founder of Long Beach Food Tours, met Romeo Garcia, owner of Romeo Chocolates, and the two quickly became dear friends, bonding over their shared entrepreneurships. When Romeo Chocolates officially opened its artisan shop on Pine Avenue, Layla included the location as a stop on her culinary walking tours of the city’s downtown area. “She has brought numerous guests through our doors, and we continued to develop a great friendship,” Garcia says.
In May 2014, Ali-Ahmad was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, and in 2017, she found out it had spread. Although she has undergone repetitive intensive treatments, the life-threatening disease is now stage 4. Her insurance coverage isn’t doing enough, and the out-of-pocket costs for immunotherapy are crippling. “Upon hearing about her health condition and treatment, we want to do all we can to give her continued strength and support,” Garcia says.
And so the Team Layla Music & Wine Strength Party was born, with the Long Beach food community gathering for an evening of sweets and support. Held at Romeo Chocolates (460 Pine Ave., Long Beach, 562-432-7999; www.romeochocolates.com ) with Pie Bar (450 Pine Ave., Long Beach, 562-444-8743; www.thepiebarlongbeach.com ) also participating, a portion of proceeds from all menu items sold Nov. 10 from both locations were donated toward Ali-Ahmad’s increasing medical bills. (Restauration was originally included, with a planned special pizza called “Soppressata for Layla,” but after a fire at the location, its owners are focusing on rebuilding the restaurant.) The premise of imbibing on chocolate, pie and wine, all for an important cause, drew people in droves. The tiny chocolatier was packed, with patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk. Inside, live music was donated by local musicians, nearly drowning out the chattering line of people waiting to place their order at a glass counter filled with tiny gourmet chocolates. Near the entrance was a raffle section with gift cards and baskets offered by local businesses such as Rainbow Juices, Ammatoli Mediterranean Bites, Willmore Wine Bar and others.
The atmosphere at Pie Bar was more subdued, but the kitchen was still slinging slices in the name of fundraising. On the menu that night were from-scratch savory choices such as quiche and pot pie, as well as sweet pies such as marionberry, Mississippi mud and bourbon pecan. Also offered was the store’s signature Pie Flight, four shot glasses layered with pie components in flavors that included Mexican chocolate, key lime, coconut cream and chocolate peanut butter.
Though people were obviously having a festive time, socializing and indulging on sugar and alcohol, the reason we were all there hung somberly in the air like burnt crust. It’s all-too-often discussed that life-saving medical treatments should be attainable, yet Long Beach’s foodie community were called to rally around a neighbor fighting for her life by helping her pay her medical bills.
A larger fundraising campaign, hosted by Plumfund, has already met its initial goal of $100,000, though as anyone who has dealt with medical treatments paired with less-than-total insurance coverage knows, the cost is astronomical—and rising. Fortunately, the three-month treatment Ali-Ahmad is currently undergoing is showing promise. And with the additional $1,700 raised at the Nov. 10 fundraiser, the cost of any future treatments will at least be partially covered. “We are hopeful and optimistic for Layla’s recovery,” says Garcia, “and we hope that people continue to support this amazing person.”
To donate to Layla Ali-Ahmad’s medical expenses, visit plumfund.com/medical-fund/team-layla .