Immigrant Food Serves Fine Cuisine, Alongside a Pro-Immigrant Message21 Nov 2019
Down the street from the White House, a hip new bistro has opened its doors. The menu boasts a variety of sophisticated ingredients, the dishes were developed by an accomplished chef, and hundreds of curious patrons flocked to the dining room the weekend it launched. This is the well-worn narrative of many restaurants in Washington D.C., which has established itself as a culinary destination in recent years. But Immigrant Food, which set up shop this month at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, isn’t just serving cuisine to its customers. It is fiercely advocating for immigrants just a stone’s throw away from a president who regularly uses social media to spew harmful anti-immigration rhetoric.
The creation of Peter Schechter, a political activist and entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States from Italy, Immigrant Food’s concept is “cause casual” as opposed to fast-casual, he explained in a recent interview with Forbes. “Rather than having a great business that then gives a portion of the profits as an afterthought to a cause, our cause is baked into our business model. We wouldn’t function without the cause.” This means that diners are presented not only with a traditional food menu but also an “engagement menu” informing them how they can support any of the five immigrant-centered nonprofit organizations the restaurant has partnered with, including the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, Ayuda, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, CARECEN, and CASA. Patrons also have the option of donating directly to the nonprofits via add-ons to their respective bills.
While the message behind Immigrant Food was important to Schechter, he was equally passionate about developing signature dishes that would attract customers amid the fast-paced, competitive D.C. food scene. To perfect his food menu, he brought on two co-founders: Enrique Limardo, a chef who immigrated from Venezuela and eventually founded the award-winning D.C.-based restaurant Seven Reasons, and Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger, an immigrant from Argentina and Limardo’s business partner. Together they blended the cuisines of more than 40 cultures until they perfected the nine signature dishes offered by Immigrant Food. Limardo explained to Forbes that achieving harmony between the panoply of flavor profiles was integral to the philosophy behind the restaurant. “We don’t want to be so particular that people try our food and say this is really Italian. No, it’s something that reminds you of something from Italy, but then you take another bite and it tastes like something from South Africa.”
While Immigrant Food is creating a buzz on the D.C. dining scene, bolstered by mostly positive reviews and strong word of mouth, its three founders remain just as committed to their mission of immigration advocacy as they do to dishing out delicious meals. During off hours, the restaurant space is utilized by its nonprofit partners for outreach activities such as English classes and job fairs, and during its opening weekend more than 400 diners were treated to a celebratory immigrant talent show. And while Schecter recognizes Immigrant Food is presenting a very different message about immigrants than the ones routinely Tweeted out of the White House, he wants his restaurant to succeed on its own merits, not as a rebuke to Trump. As he explained to Forbes, “… as our country has become more and more divided and polarized on the issue of immigration, I didn’t want to only do something that celebrates the past – America’s history, which is the history of immigrants – but I also wanted to provide cause-related concrete help for the future.” [See A Restaurant Serving Immigrant Causes Opens Steps Away from the White House by Brianne Garret, Forbes, 14.Nov.2019.]
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