Where doing good tastes good 

Lilly’s serves up something more than dim sum.

GOOD KARMA: Nancy Tesmer (left) and Kathy Webb serve it along with the food.
  • GOOD KARMA: Nancy Tesmer (left) and Kathy Webb serve it along with the food.
The sign in the ladies’ room at Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some reflects the do-good philosophy of owners Kathy Webb and Nancy Tesmer. The sign says: “Stop stealing. We’re worried about your karma.” Most of what’s been pinched from the powder room — small decorative items that reflected the Asian character of the West Little Rock restaurant — wasn’t valuable. The karmic punishment for theft of a tea canister, Tesmer said, might merely be that you’d wake up with seven cowlicks sticking up from your head. That’s life. Some people give, some take. Lilly’s Dim Sum is on the giving end, a restaurant whose owners are as famous for their philanthropy as their food. Lilly’s nourishes both the body and soul, providing both menus and “mission and values” brochures to its clientele. January wasn’t half over before Webb, 55, had contributed food at cost and her time at the stove for the Arkansas Rice Depot’s “End Hunger Gala,” and donated a dinner-with-the-chef event for 16 in Pine Bluff, bought at auction to benefit the Southeast Arts and Science Center. A native of Little Rock who learned to think progressively at an early age, managing John F. Kennedy’s campaign at Williams Elementary School when she was in 6th grade there, Webb has flavored Lilly’s Dim Sum with good works since its opening in Little Rock a little more than two years ago. Its first high-profile event may have been its “Dinner with the Critics” fund-raiser to help their favorite movie house, the Market Place Cinema. Webb is again working on food arrangements with the Literacy Council’s Literary Festival that debuted last year. Even the art on the walls of the Market Square restaurant draws benefit to the community. Artists who show at Lilly’s don’t have to share their sales with the restaurant, but they do have to give 10 percent to charity. Webb and Tesmer have added their voices to those of other restaurant owners who don’t allow smoking in restaurants. They’ve appeared in full-page advertisements placed in two national restaurant magazines by the TobaccoScam project touting the fact that Lilly’s is smoke-free. Webb and Tesmer couldn’t make a mark unless what they offered — unique Asian cuisine and wine to match — was something special. Diners of all kinds of karma go to Lilly’s for its cold sesame noodles in a peanut sauce, its chilled spinach with sesame dressing and tofu, its shrimp, crab and vegetable wontons. Korean Bibim Bop with grilled steak. Thai curry grilled chicken. Orange roughy with a panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) crust. Webb and Tesmer wanted to find a niche, and they did, with plump dumplings and aplomb. Tesmer’s the wine mind behind Lilly’s, with 20 years experience in fine dining in Chicago before joining up with Webb to create Lilly’s, which opened first in Memphis. (Lilly’s is named for Webb’s late dog. Tesmer knew she wanted a name that could incorporate chopsticks into its design; the dog’s was irresistible.) Tesmer likes to pair wines with sparkle to Asian food; Spanish Cavas are among Lilly’s most popular. The Rice Depot was one of Webb’s mother’s favorite charities. In her honor, Webb has developed several rice mixes for the agency, which feeds the hungry all across Arkansas thanks to contributions and sales of its rice products. But to win the battle against hunger, and other injustices, Webb said, “You can’t just keep feeding people. You’ve got to talk about the root causes of problems.” She hopes to address those root causes with even greater involvement in the community in the coming year.


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