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Posts Tagged ‘restaurant’

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Photo: ergey Ponomarev for the New York Times.

This was completely new to me: Many Russian restaurants provide disposable gloves for things like burgers that you eat with your hands. Although I know I’m much more likely to get Covid-19 from breathing droplets, I think I could get used to the glove concept.

As Anton Troianovski reports at the New York Times, “When you enter a home in Moscow, you take off your shoes. When you go to a play, you have to check your coat. When you eat a burger, you often wear gloves.

“Across hygiene-conscious Eastern Europe, many people consider it uncouth and unsanitary to eat a burger with their bare hands. The answer used to be a knife and fork. But the pandemic has accelerated a years-old trend: order a burger from Kyiv to Kamchatka — or in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — and there is a fair chance it will come with a side of disposable gloves.

“Most often, the gloves are made of a synthetic, latex-free rubber called nitrile. At Black Star Burger, which launched the phenomenon in Moscow in 2016, the gloves on offer are black, individually wrapped in plastic packets. At Star Burger in Kyiv, Ukraine, they are green (or pink on Valentine’s Day). At Butterbro, a gastro pub in Minsk, Belarus, they come wrapped discreetly inside a napkin next to a serving dish made of the trunk of an ash tree.

‘Gloves, I think, are an unspoken, required attribute of any burger restaurant,’ said Butterbro’s manager, Alina Volkolovskaya. ‘I’m surprised that establishments in every country don’t offer them.’

“To visiting Americans, the practice always seemed odd, bordering on blasphemous. But when Moscow’s lockdown ended this month and I went out to celebrate, nervously, with a cheeseburger to go, it suddenly kind of made sense. …

“I called George Motz, a New York hamburger specialist, and he insisted that gloves negate the ‘very tactile experience’ of eating a burger. ‘Take the gloves off and get closer to your burger!’ Mr. Motz said. ..

“Several American restaurant safety experts, however, were intrigued, having never heard of establishments providing diners with disposable gloves. They doubted the practice would take off in the United States — the coronavirus, after all, is not even known to spread through food — but some said that gloves used properly could help protect people who don’t wash their hands from a variety of germs. …

“Vanity, not health concerns, first propelled Eastern Europe’s gloves-and-burgers fad. Mr. Levitas of Black Star Burger recruited Timati, a Russian rap star close to the Kremlin, to lend a celebrity cachet to his new burger chain, which now has 67 locations across the former Soviet Union and one in Los Angeles. …

“The gloves help Black Star’s customers feel special, Mr. Levitas said, like the sparklers that go off when waiters bring out the $11 ‘V.I.P.’ burger.

“The gloves proved impervious to politics. A Kyiv restaurateur, Gennady Medvedev, says he had the idea to serve gloves with burgers independently of Black Star Burger in the years after he opened his Star Burger chain in the Ukrainian capital in early 2014 — during his country’s anti-Putin revolution. …

“The trend took off behind the former Iron Curtain as fancy burger places popped up in a region unfamiliar with the dish before McDonald’s arrived in the 1990s. Alexander Monaenkov, a Moscow-born burger-bar owner in Prague, says he handed out gloves to evoke the refinement of white-gloved waiters in Michelin-star restaurants. Corina Enciu, a Moldovan-born restaurateur in Krakow, Poland, said she introduced gloves because her burger joint lacked a place for people to wash their hands. …

“Gera Wise, a Kyiv-born cafe and nightclub owner in the Russian-speaking Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach, said his customers started asking for gloves after Timati started modeling them. …

“Isaac Correa, a Puerto Rico-born chef who lived in Moscow for two decades, thinks the gloves-and-burgers concept could have a global future. Mr. Correa worked with Mr. Medvedev in Kyiv to start the Star Burger chain. … Now Mr. Correa runs a restaurant in Sarasota, Fla., and his diners hesitate to touch menus or to come inside to collect takeout orders.

“ ‘I could see some of my customers in a casual restaurant say, “Hey, look, I’m going to try this,” ‘ Mr. Correa said.”

I’m thinking of adding gloves to my other nutty pandemic practices, including throwing out the takeout container immediately and reheating all the food in the oven. Now, if only I could find a place that sells disposable gloves.

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Anne Lakeman/Mediamatic ETEN
Testing the Serres Séparées safe-eating concept at Mediamatic restaurant in the Netherlands.

My husband keeps saying he can’t imagine that going to restaurants will ever be the same after coronavirus. In fact, he says, if nice restaurants continue doing takeout, maybe we should just stick with that.

Of course, restaurant owners are already thinking about these issues.

Byron Mühlberg reports from the Netherlands that the possibility of future guests requesting their own separate spaces has got some restaurateurs thinking creatively.

“With Dutch restaurants, bars and other catering services engulfed in uncertainty over how they might adjust to the 1.5-meter society,” he writes, “one Amsterdam restaurant is set to experiment with a brand new way of condoning off its guests: Using enclosed greenhouses.

“Mediamatic ETEN, part of a larger arts and entrepreneurship center focusing on sustainability, is a vegan restaurant. … From May 21, the restaurant will begin taking in guests, only this time they will be seated inside Serres Séparées (‘separated greenhouses’), enclosed glass structures, each equipped with a table for two or three diners.

” ‘This was one of the most feasible ideas from a large list of ideas we had when brainstorming,’ Mediamatic’s founding partner Willem Velthoven told NL Times. …

Initially, no more than three guests will be allowed to dine inside each greenhouse, even though there is the capacity for more. ‘[This is] is because we are now careful with our optimism,’ Velthoven explained. …

” ‘Bigger groups could [come] now, but then they should be families. For now, bigger groups are being discouraged because, from our experience, they are just louder and then you get the excited behavior causing spittle to fly and so on, and that’s the kind of behavior that would make the virus spread faster,’ Velthoven said. …

“Catering industry association KHN told NL Times, ‘We sent a protocol to the government two weeks ago, containing advice on how best to open the 1.5 [meter] distance. It is crucial that the government provide perspective quickly.’

“While KHN said it would not yet advise restaurants to reopen on June 1, renowned catering tycoon Laurens Meyer … questioned the idea of people becoming too careful with space.

” ‘We have to realize that there will always be some kind of virus. Whether it is worse than the flu, we have to see. If there is nothing left of our economy, we will no longer be able to afford health care and that will also cost human lives,’ explained Meyer.

“Velthoven, on the other hand, disagrees with Meyer’s approach, urging caution before advising restaurants to open their doors to the public without careful examination. ‘It’s about others and not just yourself in this case,’ he said. …

“Velthoven also understands the business argument, even though he has spent a career looking for creative solutions to problems instead of blunt responses. He ultimately wondered what the government’s plan is for the catering sector if those businesses are ordered to stay closed for a longer duration. If billions of euros are being diverted to KLM, he wonders what the government will be able to do to bail out his industry.

” ‘If I am not allowed to do anything the rest of this year, it’s finished,’ he lamented.” More at NL Times, here.

If you have heard of other good ideas for restaurants and bars in our cautious Covid-19 world, please share them in Comments. Pretty sure that there’s a large group of potential patrons who will be looking for the safest way to dine out — at least until a vaccine is widely available.

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Photo: Irena Stein Photography/Immigrant Food
Chef Enrique Limardo says the “Columbia Road” bowl at his restaurant, Immigrant Food, combines elements of Salvadoran and Ethiopian cuisine. A special side dish: opportunities to help recent immigrants.

People say, “I’m upset, but I don’t know what to do.” Or, “I don’t have time to do anything extra.”

Look, when you shop, do you have time put a can in the food pantry bin? Do you have time to write a handful of postcards to voters once in a while? There is always time to put a can in a bin; there are always nonprofits that will accept a tiny bit of volunteering. It adds up.

And here’s the biggest benefit: you will feel better. Was it Ann Landers or Dear Abby who was always recommending helping someone worse off as a cure for nonclinical blues? You just need to find a volunteer gig that fits your interests.

This post is mostly about a cool restaurant in Washington, but be sure to note what the owners are trying to do in addition to presenting delicious, creative dishes.

In November, Catherine E. Shoichet reported at CNN about a new restaurant that opened up in the nation’s capital.

“It’s called ‘Immigrant Food,’ ” she wrote, “and it’s just a block from the White House. The fast-casual spot caters to a weekday lunchtime crowd, with bowls blending cuisines from different cultures around the globe — like a dish that combines Vietnamese spicy-rice noodles with pickled bananas in what the restaurant says is an ‘ode both to Central America’s favorite fruit and to German-style pickling.’

“It also gives diners a chance to donate to local immigrant advocacy groups, all under a slogan aiming to bridge the political divide and find common ground: ‘United at the Table.’

“[Co-founder Peter Schechter] wants people to feel at home here, and to hear the story he’s excited to tell. …

“As the child of immigrants from Austria and Germany, Schechter says he felt like he had to respond to the surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric across the United States.

” ‘This isn’t the America I recognize. … Immigrants have been the foundation of growth and vibrancy. This country has been great again and again and again because of immigrants. …

” ‘Immigrants are feeding America,’ he says. ‘All of the industries that make food, whether it is the picking or the shucking or the meatpacking or the slaughterhouses, (or) in restaurants, the servers, the bus boys, this is an industry that is dominated by immigrants.’ …

“At Immigrant Food, menus available by the door describe each of the nine fusion bowls and five vegan drinks on tap. They also encourage visitors to donate to and volunteer with local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Among the suggestions listed on the restaurant’s ‘engagement menu’: teaching English, visiting detention centers, staffing hotlines and helping with mock ICE interviews. …

“There’s also a photo booth featuring a world map. Diners can point to where their families are from, snap a selfie and get a text message with a frame around the image that says, ‘We are all immigrants!’ …

‘People say, “I’m really upset about what’s happening, but I don’t know what to do,” ‘ Schechter says. ‘And so, you come to this restaurant, we will give you stuff to do — concretely and easily.’

“Local immigrant advocacy groups will also be able to use the restaurant’s upstairs space for things like meetings and English classes, free of charge. And on its website, the restaurant will serve up bite-sized breakdowns of immigration policy issues, dubbed ‘The Think Table.’ …

“The location turned out to be a case of serendipity, Schechter says. ‘[But] I really think it goes beyond the political.’ …

As he sips on a drink called ‘Across the Border’ — which blends cacao, dates, peppers, allspice, vanilla and cashew milk — Robert Evans, 72, says he loves the concept but worries the restaurant might end up preaching to the choir rather than crossing political lines.

“But then again, he says, one day someone who works in the White House might stop by. … In Schechter’s view, immigration shouldn’t be a polarizing topic. He points to polls that show most Americans say immigration is a good thing. And he hopes Democrats and Republicans will dine at Immigrant Food together.

” ‘The table, the restaurant, has always been a place where people unite,’ he says.” More.

By the way, if you’re ever in Providence, the immigrant restaurant called Aleppo Sweets is just fantastic. An extra treat for me is running into one of my former ESL (English as a Second Language) students who’s working alongside her family members there.

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Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images
Chef Jay Fai in Thailand wears a wool cap and safety goggles to ward off the heat from the charcoal fires in the alley where she cooks all of her restaurant’s meals. She won a Michelin star for her high-quality food.

Quality can be found anywhere, as this National Public Radio (NPR) story about a chef in a Thailand alley shows.

Michael Sullivan writes, “Bangkok is legendary for its fun and its food. Especially its street food. And one vendor’s is so good, it has earned a Michelin star for the second year running.

“Raan Jay Fai is a small, seven-table joint in Old Bangkok that’d be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line. There’s always a line.

“You can try to make a reservation, but the place — named after its chef/owner, a local legend — is usually booked a month or two out. Signing up for the walk-in list is the best bet for many, especially tourists. But you need to get there early.

” ‘I got here at 7:30 [a.m.],’ says 24-year old Kashmira Velji, from Austin, Texas, who was determined to try Jay Fai after viewing the chef’s star turn on the recent Netflix special Street Food. Never mind that the restaurant doesn’t open for lunch until 2 p.m. …

” ‘I’ve never had anything like this before,’ Velji says between bites. … ‘Our first bites were very intense. We kind of just stayed silent and were in shock at how good it tastes.’

“Suparat Tretachayakorn — a doctor — isn’t shocked at all. He’s a regular. And the crab omelette is one of his go-to dishes. … He and his friends have also ordered Jay Fai’s famous tom yum soup, and half a dozen other dishes. Tom yum is a Thai staple — made with shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, garlic and mushrooms — and it’s found almost everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s always good.

” ‘Actually, I don’t normally order tom yum because I know that I’m going to be disappointed at most places,’ he says. …

“It’s another of her signature dishes. One that’s got the visitor from Austin, Velji, baffled. In a good way.

” ‘It tastes just like the soup, but it’s dry,’ she says. “It’s exactly the same flavors of the tom yum soup, but instead of slurping it, I’m chewing it and I’m still getting all those sour, spicy flavors’ …

“Part of the fun [is] watching the maestro at work. The 74-year-old Jay Fai cooks everything herself — over two blazing charcoal fires, in the alley next to the busy street. …

” ‘It’s faster to cook when using charcoal, to stir-fry vegetables,’ Jay Fai says. … Jay Fai is a perfectionist — so much so that she doesn’t let anyone else on her staff do the cooking. That’s another reason why it takes so long to get your food here — even with reservations.

” ‘They can’t do it. This is very hard to do,’ she says. ‘It’s not that I don’t want them to do it, I do. But even when they watch me, they can’t remember anything.’ …

“About that Michelin star: When she got the first phone call, she kind of blew them off. By accident.

” ‘I was confused,’ she says. ‘They said they wanted to invite me to an event, a gala dinner, and I said, “Oh, my, a gala dinner, no thank you. I don’t want to go. What would I wear?” ‘…

” ‘To be honest, it was the high point of my life. If I die now, if anything happens now, I’m OK with it. I’ll die peacefully.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Universo Santi
This haute cuisine restaurant in Spain makes a point of hiring workers with disabilities.

I have posted a few stories about successful operations that hire workers with disabilities, but this is the first I remember seeing about a high-class restaurant set up for the purpose of creating jobs that don’t differ from jobs in establishments that don’t use workers with disabilities.

Stephen Burgen writes at the Guardian, “The first thing that strikes you is the calm, the light, the modern art on the walls – and then of course the food. It’s only later that you realise there is something different, and a little special, about Universo Santi, a restaurant in the southern Spanish city of Jerez.

“ ‘People don’t come here because the staff are disabled but because it’s the best restaurant in the area. Whatever reason they came for, the talking is about the food,’ says Antonio Vila.

“Vila is the president of the Fundación Universo Accesible, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping people with disabilities join the mainstream workforce. He has also been the driving force behind Universo Santi, the haute cuisine restaurant whose 20 employees all have some form of disability.

“ ‘I always wanted to show what people with disabilities, given the right training, were capable of,’ says Vila, who is a senior manager at DKV insurance. ‘They were not represented in the world of haute cuisine. Universo Santi has broken through that barrier.’

“The 20 staff, whose ages range from 22 to 62, were recruited from an original list of 1,500. To qualify, applicants had to be unemployed and have more than 35% disability.

“ ‘I feel really lucky to be part of this,’ says Gloria Bazán, head of human resources, who has cerebral palsy. ‘It’s difficult to work when society just sees you as someone with a handicap. This has given me the opportunity to be independent and to participate like any other human being.’

“Alejandro Giménez, 23, has Down’s syndrome and is a commis chef. ‘It’s given me the chance to become independent doing something I’ve loved since I was a kid,’ says Giménez, who lived with his mother until he was recruited.

“ ‘Working here has transformed my life. So many things I used to ask my mother to do, I do myself. I didn’t even know how to take a train by myself because I’d just miss my stop.’ …

“Universo Santi may soon have a star in the Michelin firmament as the Michelin Guide people have already sampled the menu which, at €60 (£53), is less than half the price of a typical menú de degustación.

“ ‘Of course they didn’t introduce themselves but we knew who they were,’ says Almudena Merlo, the maître d’. …

“The Jerez restaurant takes its name from Santi Santamaria, chef at the Michelin three-star Can Fabes in Catalonia until his sudden death in 2011. Can Fabes closed shortly afterwards but his family wanted to carry on his name and culinary tradition and were keen to support the Jerez project. …

“The family’s enthusiasm attracted the attention of Spain’s top chefs, among them Martín Berasategui, [Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, twice voted the best restaurant in the world] and Ángel León, all of whom have contributed recipes and their time as guest chefs at the restaurant.”

More at the Guardian, here. The article also mentions other European enterprises that employ people with disabilities.

Photo: Universo Santi
Says Alejandro Giménez, a junior chef with Down Syndrome who works at Universo Santi in Jerez, “Working here has transformed my life.”

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Photo: WGRZ
The owner of Sakina Halal Grill, Kazi Mannan, knows what it’s like to be hungry. Thanks to his paying customers in DC, he can give meals to the homeless for free.

Don’t you love successful people who remember how painful poverty and daily anxiety about food can be — and who decide to help others? Tim Ebner reports at the Eater in Washington, DC, about a restaurateur who did just that.

“Come 2 p.m. in many Washington, D.C., restaurants, the lunch rush is all but over. … But for Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, the lunch rush is just getting started.

“On a late-Friday afternoon, the door to his Pakistani-Nepalese-Indian restaurant keeps swinging open. A homeless man who is deaf walks through the door. He carries a note. Mannan reads it, then attempts to sign with the man.

“Mannan asks if he wants something to eat while gesturing toward his mouth. The man holds up two fingers and pulls out $2, but Mannan shakes his head no.

“ ‘No money,’ ” he says. ‘You eat for free.’

“That’s Mannan’s policy for every homeless person who walks through the door. At Sakina Halal Grill, the poor, homeless, and hungry eat for free — Mannan calculates he gave away 6,000 meals in 2016 — and the waiters serve them in the dining room, as if they’re full paying customers.

“The buffet-style, halal restaurant, which is undergoing a name change from Mayur Kabab House to Sakina Halal Grill — ‘It’s a tribute to all the mothers around the world,’ Mannan, who lost his mother Sakina, 26 years ago, says of the switch. …

” ‘I’m the little guy on this block,’ Mannan said. ‘And, I love it. …

‘I want to say, “Hey listen, corporate people and people in politics! Listen to me!” I want to show them what love can do, and I want to spread a wave of love that touches the lives of millions.’

“Mannan says he’s living the immigrant dream, in a place where people are likely to take notice. Keeping his door open — which he did Thursday during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike — is more than just good business, it’s an expression of his faith. …

” ‘Kazi Mannan: The restaurant has been here for decades. I took it over in 2013 and this really was my dream. I came from a village in Pakistan that didn’t have electricity or plumbing. Our school was completely outdoors. It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant. …

” ‘I started working at a gas station off Benning Road in Northeast. At the time, it was a very dangerous neighborhood. I worked there for a few years, and eventually, I saved enough money to start a limousine service; someone told me that I could make my own money as a driver. The funny thing is — that’s where you meet all of the stars of D.C. I still own the company, and I’m very proud that I can provide jobs to people like me, immigrants. Because seriously for me, this is not about the money. …

” ‘My mother taught me to be generous and give with my time. Because remember, we were broke. But, if we had a guest visit, she would make tea and welcome them into our home. She gave everything of herself. …

” ‘I’m a Muslim-American. And I like to believe that when I’m giving to the poor and hungry, God sees that. Just the act of giving a smile to someone can be a blessing. Just think about what food has the power to do. …

‘ ‘The chefs work together … and not only do they make delicious food, but they represent places, which are typically at odds with each other. They come together in this kitchen and use pure love and food. …

” ‘I am proud to be Muslim-American. I am proud to be a citizen of this country. And as a Muslim, I want to show others the true essence of Islam — and that is to love.”

More at the Eater, here. Manna’s initiative seems to be going strong (click here for a 2019 update), which is reassuring as the Eater article is from 2017. I was sorry to see that when Panera tried something similar, a pay-what-you-want model, it didn’t last. (See Bloomberg.) As philanthropic people keep trying to find ways to feed the hungry while running a business, a model that works long-term will emerge. Meanwhile, one kind individual can make a huge difference in many lives.

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Photos: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees, and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.” says the founder of Emma’s Torch restaurant, Kerry Brodie.

What are ordinary people supposed to do against the horrors of the headlines? Another violent person who has brainwashed himself with misinformation about immigrants has acted out. He did it in New Zealand, but his online buddies are everywhere.

I am an ordinary person, and here’s all I can do, little as it is. I can donate to causes that work to prevent ignorance and violence. I can remind myself that there are an awful lot of people whose views on immigration are completely different from the evil doer’s. And I can share another story about how one of those people took positive action, to the delight of many.

Amanda Holpuch reports at the Guardian, “Culinary adventures are woven into the fabric of New York City. But in Brooklyn one December night, only one restaurant could offer a five-course meal that began with salmon cake and couscous from Mali and ended with an Iraqi dessert, including in between dishes from Honduras and China.

“The restaurant is Emma’s Torch, a non-profit that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking the culinary and communication skills needed for a career in the kitchen. Six days a week, diners are offered a menu described as: ‘New American cuisine – prepared by our new American students.’

“The restaurant began as a pop-up [in 2017] before expanding this summer into a bright, airy restaurant known for its earthy black-eyed pea hummus garnished with dried chillies. The New Yorker food critic, Hannah Goldfield, touted their ‘perfect shakshuka’ served during weekend brunch service in her August review of the restaurant. In 2019, they will open a second space at Brooklyn Public Library.

“Emma’s Torch is named for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

“On one night each month, Emma’s Torch is also the site of a graduation dinner that showcases the flavors of students’ homes, such as the lotus root dyed pink with dragon fruit sauce that was prepared by a Chinese student for the second course of the December dinner.

“Before the first course was served, as the clock ticked down, the restaurant’s founder, Kerry Brodie, spoke over the sounds of sizzling pans.

“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees,’ she said, ‘and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.’

“In an eight-week, paid apprenticeship, trainees learn how to properly use knives to slice, dice and chop. They also take English classes and participate in mock job interviews. They receive 400 hours of culinary training and are paid $15 an hour for their work at the restaurant and on catered events. In 2017, every graduate was placed in a culinary job. …

“Aya fled Iraq two years ago, fearing persecution because her husband was a professor. Violence against academics became common after the US-led invasion in 2003; the couple were being threatened for her husband’s refusal to obey militias. …

“She studied computer programming for two years but that gave way to cooking, as her efforts were praised by teachers and friends. …

“In Iraq, she could buy their favorite foods cheaply and easily. In the US, she had to craft meals from start to finish, scouring markets for Arab ingredients. … But as Aya kept friends, family and teachers happy with her meals from home, it was clear her future lay in cooking, not computers. The refugee agency Hias connected her with Emma’s Torch.”

Read more about Aya and the work of Emma’s Torch at the Guardian, here.

Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, NY, is a restaurant that values the contributions of refugees. The name refers to the poem by Emma Lazarus quoted on the Statue of Liberty.

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Photo: My Modern Met
Sekai Kobayashi allows customers to work 50-minute shifts in order to earn their meal.

This story is such a good example of how diversity breeds creativity. The restaurant entrepreneur here got her ideas about a new model of eatery, an open-source eatery, from her former techy career. In the same way, having diversity in a workplace or other organization, including diversity of thought, can be a kind of power pack (as my 3-year-old granddaughter would say) for the mission.

Jessica Stewart has a report at My Modern Met, “Don’t have enough money for a hot meal? That’s not a problem if you are dining at Tokyo’s Mirai Shokudo (aka Future Eatery). Since opening its doors in 2015, owner Sekai Kobayashi has allowed customers to work 50-minute shifts in order to earn their meal at the small eatery, which seats 12 people around a small counter. Kobayashi, a former software engineer, sees the system as part of her ‘open source’ restaurant concept, where the participation of customers helps the business.

“The idea struck her while working for a recipe website, Cookpad Inc., which has an in-office kitchen that staff could use. Encouraged by her colleagues’ compliments, she decided to leave behind her work as an engineer and open her own restaurant. Now, in a little over two years, more than 500 helpers have worked with Kobayashi — who runs Mirai Shokudo by herself — and earned a meal by doing so.

“Ranging from university students looking to save money to a former teacher in her mid-50s hoping to move into the food industry, there’s always someone new in the kitchen. And for Kobayashi, this is part of the joy.

‘I use this system because I want to connect with hungry people who otherwise couldn’t eat at restaurants because they don’t have money.’

“This desire to give back doesn’t just end with a free meal. The former engineer takes things a step further, even sharing the finances of her restaurant with the public, … she shared with China Daily.

“ ‘I posted the restaurant’s business plan and finances on its website so I can collect input from the public on how to make improvements.’ Not only does it help her, but it also serves as a resource for others who may be interested in opening their own restaurant.” More here.

Hat tip: Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, a show I really enjoy. It airs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays.

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Photo: Anna Mindess
One of Ba-Bite’s colorful salads: red cabbage with mung bean sprouts, dried figs, arugula and feta and the creamiest hummus. The restaurant is like a welcoming family for immigrant workers.

Lisa, who lives in Oakland, California, put this nice story about an Oakland restaurant on Facebook. If I ever go to Oakland, I’m going to visit Ba-Bite in person.

Anna Mindess writes at KQED Food, “They’ve won accolades for their silken hummus and rainbow of organic salads, but for the owners of Oakland’s Ba-Bite, the most precious thing the almost two-year old restaurant can display right now may be the Sanctuary Restaurant poster on their front door. …

“Ba-Bite is Hebrew for ‘at home.’ Even though most of Mica Talmor and Robert Gott’s employees don’t speak Hebrew, (besides English, they speak Spanish, Maya, and Arabic) they completely understand the concept. The majority of them — like most food service workers in the Bay Area — are immigrants. After walking across deserts at night, being shortchanged or abused in other restaurants where they could not complain, working at Ba-Bite feels like they have found a family.

“Russell Chable manages the kitchen at Ba-Bite and is responsible for set up, prepping, and cooking. He grew up in a tiny town in Mexico’s Yucatan. … He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to his lead position in Ba-Bite.

“After eight years away from home, Russell missed his mom. Sure, he would talk to her on the phone every week, but he wanted to see her face. So this determined young man decided to build his parents a cell tower so that he could FaceTime with his mom. Six months ago, he made contact with a man back in Mexico who outlined what would be needed: laptops, cables and a cell tower. Russell had his uncle check out the man and then sent money. Now he uses FaceTime to talk to his mom every week, and his parents have a small business renting out computer and internet time. …

“Fatima Abudamos is from Jordan and works as cashier. She also holds the distinction as Ba-Bite’s best falafel shaper. As she stuffs the green balls with sheep’s milk feta, she says, ‘This is an amazing place, just like a family. I’ve worked here almost two years. Mica is not like a boss, she’s more like a friend. She doesn’t scream if you make a mistake; she explains things. I feel safe here; it’s my second family.’ …

““We pay all of our workers well,” says Gott. “Partly because we know how expensive it is to live here. My experience is that more often than not, immigrants are working multiple jobs or longer hours, and forgo taking time off at all costs, as they want to or need to make money. …

“[Food runner Kasandra Molina says,] ‘This space here doesn’t feel like a workplace, it feels like home. We all get along. They care about our opinions and feelings. They don’t treat us just as employees; it’s more like a family.’ ”

More at KQED, here.

Are you in Oakland? Check out Ba-Bite at 3905 Piedmont Ave. Phone: (510) 250-9526

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In India, a civic-minded restaurant put a working fridge out front so patrons could join the eatery in offering leftovers to the hungry instead of throwing good food away.

Elyse Wanshel writes at the Huffington Post, “Pappadavada, a popular restaurant in Kochi, is urging customers and the community to put their leftover food in a refrigerator located outside of the eatery for the hungry to take. …

“The fridge is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week and stays unlocked. … Pauline told the Huffington Post that despite a huge response from the community and ample donations, the fridge needs to be restocked regularly. Pauline herself adds around 75 to 80 portions of food from Pappadavada a day in the fridge. …

“The idea to put a fridge on the street came to Pauline late one night when she saw a lady searching in a trashcan for food. As she watched the woman, she had a terrible thought:

“ ‘That the woman had been sleeping and was woken up by her hunger, so she had to go in search of food instead of sleeping.’

“She was especially saddened because that particular night, her restaurant had made a ton of food that they could’ve easily given the woman, instead of her searching for it.

“The experience made her feel like she contributed to waste, and avoiding waste is what Pauline is focused on.

“ ‘Money is yours but resources belong to society,” she told HuffPost. “That’s the message I want to send out. If you’re wasting your money, it’s your money, but you’re wasting the society’s resources. Don’t waste the resource, don’t waste the food.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Thesny Alikhan
Minu Pauline, right, the restaurateur behind the free food fridge, with a supporter, actor/director Thesny Alikhan

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Photo: Mary MacDonald/Providence Business News
A rehabilitation project recently turned the old Mechanical Fabric Company mill in Providence’s West End into a live-work space for culinary entrepreneurs.
Providence can be a good place for starting a food business, partly because Johnson & Wales turns out so many good cooks, partly because the cost of a restaurant liquor license is much less than in many other cities.

And in recent years, the arrival of food incubators like Hope & Main in nearby Warren have provided a way for food entrepreneurs to get up and running without going deep into debt.

Recently, Providence Journal reporter John Hill wrote about a new food incubator, combined with living space, going into the old Mechanical Fabric Co. mill in Providence’s West End.

“In its 125 years,” writes Hill, “the old brick factory at 55 Cromwell St. has made bicycle tires, electronic components and jewelry. Now it’s getting ready to make dinner.

“The interior of the 1891 building, once filled by the clatter and thrum of steam-powered, belt-driven machines, is being gutted and rebuilt as the new home of two commercial kitchens, restaurant space and 40 efficiency apartments for young food-industry entrepreneurs.

“Federico Manaigo, whose Cromwell Ventures LLC owns the building, said the conversion is aimed at capitalizing on Providence’s reputation as a restaurant mecca. When finished, he said, the factory will be home to recent college graduates considering the restaurant business, either as chefs or owners. …

“Manaigo wants to see if he can duplicate the success of Hot Bread Kitchen, an incubator program in East Harlem in New York City. That program, without apartments, rents space to people with small ethnic food businesses who want to grow into full-fledged commercial operations. It also provides training programs and rents space to start-ups that grow from those efforts.

“The idea is to give promising food-business grads a way to stay in Providence, he said, where they can hone their skills and, when they’re ready to open a restaurant, bakery or catering company, do it in Rhode Island and hire Rhode Islanders. …

“Manaigo said he wants to see if the project can tap into sources of culinary inspiration beyond the colleges. The East Harlem incubator found success by recruiting immigrants, especially women, from the neighborhood, persuading them to share their recipes from home and start small bakeries selling their food. The West End has Middle Eastern, Asian and Central and South American restaurants in its storefronts, a sign of a diverse ethnic population Manaigo said he hopes the kitchen can work with.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he likes that the project offers “a way for the city to use the colleges in the area as sources of potential new business owners and play off the restaurant business in a way that could make it even bigger in the future.

” ‘The whole food scene is a strategic strength for the city,’ he said. ‘This fits squarely within that.’ ” More here.

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A husband and wife who run a restaurant in Norfolk, Mass., have opened their hearts to worthy causes, offering to assist through sales of a Brazilian dough boy.

Bella English writes at the Boston Globe, ” ‘We know the stresses of running a restaurant,” says Jennifer [Lima], 37. ‘But we promised each other we would also use it to do some good.’ …

“They donate bread weekly to the Wrentham Food Pantry. Their first Easter brunch, they donated much of the sales to the local fire department. They’re constantly giving gift cards to this or that raffle.

“When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, struggling to work while raising her son and undergoing treatment, they donated a percentage of their earnings to Project Princess, which a friend organized on the woman’s behalf.

“And when the family of a young Marine just back from Afghanistan wanted to book a welcome home party, the Limas told them no problem. In late December, a peak holiday time, they closed the restaurant and donated the entire party. They hung signs and strung red, white, and blue lights around the bar.

“ ‘Who else closes on a busy Saturday night?’ asks Lauren Eliopoulos, the Marine’s sister. ‘They would not take anything in return. It touched my entire family.’ …

“Rolling in the Dough, [is] the couple’s latest endeavor. Their ‘Doughboy,’ take my word for it, is the best piece of fried dough you’ll ever eat. … The box notes that 100 percent of the proceeds from Doughboy sales will go to a person, family, or cause in need. ‘Do you know a deserving cause? E-mail lima@novatosgrill.com.’ ”

Read more here.

Photo: Bella English

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In the last year or so, the Boston Globe has been featuring occasional reviews of restaurants in other countries. Knowing I have a few readers in Sweden, I thought I would mention this week’s review, about a restaurant in Stockholm. (If you go, let me know how you like it.)

Luke Pyenson writes, “Occasionally you see a plate of food so beautiful, it’s almost difficult to take the first bite. Imagine 20 such plates on the same table. This is what you’re up against at Rosendals Tradgard, an expansive and unique bakery-cafe-and-garden here. As you approach it, the aromas hit you, then once inside, on an impossibly long table, you see morning buns, pastries, savories, sandwiches, cakes, tarts, and everything in between. As gorgeous as this veritable smorgasbord is, the sheer attractiveness of it all — like Scandinavia itself — is a bit intimidating.

“Located on Djurgarden, one of the 14 islands that make up Sweden’s pristine and enchanting capital city, Rosendals Tradgard is a place with history. First sold to soon-to-be crowned King Karl XIV Johan in 1817, the land around the restaurant was developed by the Swedish Horticultural Society for gardening and horticultural education in the early 1860s. Today, the vast complex comprises sprawling gardens (including a rose garden and apple orchard) where fruits and vegetables are cultivated, plus a cafe, bakery, plant shop, and food shop located in greenhouses. In keeping with the spirit of the Swedish Horticultural Society, there are courses, lectures, and a variety of other cultural activities around biodynamic gardening.” Click for more about the food.

And if you are in the Greater Boston area and hungry for Swedish Cardamom Rolls (kardemummabullar), check out the 43rd annual Scandinavian Fair tomorrow, Saturday, at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, 500 Walden St., Concord, MA, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Or you could try a recipe from Epicurious, here. It’s a bit of work. Suzanne once made the rolls for Erik, but not since having a two-year-old who likes to take charge in the kitchen.

Photo: Luke Pyenson for the Boston Globe
A plate of fresh-baked kardemummabullar at Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm.

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Of the various articles written recently about the elderly Koreans hanging out in a McDonald’s in Queens, the one I liked best and learned the most from was Michael Kimmelman’s at the NY Times. He asks an intriguing question.

“Why that McDonald’s?

“The kerfuffle started when word spread that the police were repeatedly evicting elderly Korean patrons from a McDonald’s in Queens. The Koreans have been milking their stays over $1.09 coffees, violating the restaurant’s 20-minute dining limit. The news made headlines as far away as Seoul. Last week, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.

“Still, the question remains. The McDonald’s at issue occupies the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, in Flushing. A Burger King is two blocks away. There are scores of fast-food outlets, bakeries and cafes near Main Street, a half-mile away

“So, in the vein of the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who helped design better cities by watching how people use spaces, I spent some time in Flushing. What I found reinforced basic lessons about architecture, street life and aging neighborhoods.” Read it all.

My key takeaways: older people, especially those with canes, think two blocks from home is OK, but not four; elderly people like picture windows and a busy street corner with a constantly changing scene; they like looking in to see if people like them are inside (the McDonald’s on Main Street has older Chinese, not Koreans); they like little nooks where a group can gather comfortably.

As a longtime booster of walkable communities, I find it all makes perfect sense. If such naturally occurring communities continue to appear, perhaps they should be encouraged, with some kind of compensation for the business owner. What if the city redirected some money for senior programs to a business that provided space in downtimes? Crazy?

My husband frequents a coffee shop group where folks hang out but not all day. That group has had its differences with the proprietor, goodness knows. There ought to be ways to make everyone happy.

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Picture windows, lively traffic and easy access for the elderly: the McDonald’s at Northern and Parsons Boulevards in Queens.

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An early version of fast food, as many readers will recall, was the Automat. You didn’t wait for a waiter to wait on you. You took your nickels and quarters to a wall of little doors, popped the coins in where you saw what you wanted to eat, opened the little door, and then took your piece of pie or sandwich or whatever to a table where, more often than not, you dined with strangers.

I found this recent NY Times story by Sam Roberts charming.

“The Automat is being recreated at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue starting Friday for an exhibition on lunch. …

“The Automat, which first opened in Philadelphia, was democratic, because its tables accommodated customers from every class. It replaced the free lunch at saloons shuttered by Prohibition. The chrome and brass vending machines framed by Italian marble conveyed cleanliness, because the workers who prepared the food were invisible behind the spinning steel drums that fed the machines. …

“In a doctoral dissertation at Cornell University, Alec Tristin Shuldiner noted that compared with Philadelphians, New Yorkers wanted more sugar in their stewed tomatoes, favored seafood, except for oysters, craved clam chowder and chicken pies, and eschewed scrapple. …

“The playwright Neil Simon once wrote of his Automat memories, recalling that he learned more from his dining partners there than during three years at Princeton:

‘And the years went by and I turned from a day customer to a night patron, working on those first attempts at monologues and sketches at two in the morning, over steaming black coffee and fresh cheese Danish. And a voice from the stranger opposite me.

‘ “Where you from? California?”

‘ “No. I grew up in New York.”

‘ “Is that so? Where in New York?”

‘ “At this table.” ’ ”

But perhaps you’d like to read the whole thing.

Photograph: Berenice Abbott, NY Public Library

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