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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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