On Tuesday, Washington’s first-ever fast-casual turned cause-casual celebrating immigrants opens less than a block from the White House. The city is taking note.
“America’s story is the story of immigrants. Everyone in this country, except for native Americans, has come from somewhere”, says Tea Ivanovic, Immigrant Food’s Director of Communications.
“Our restaurant fuses food and immigration advocacy. People can come to just enjoy the food, but we will have specific ways in which they can contribute to the fight against a new intolerance in America.”
In addition to a food menu that is a fusion of immigrant-inspired recipes and which features a range of international teas and sodas, Immigrant Food will also spotlight an “engagement menu”, where diners can donate, or sign up to volunteer or petition with five local immigrant-service organizations, which include Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC), Ayuda, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, CARECEN, and CASA. During slow business hours, the restaurant will lend its space to these nonprofits for hosting occasional English classes, workshops, legal clinics, and more.
“We don’t only want to celebrate the past,” said Ivanovic. “We want to do specific things to help immigrants today.”
“It’s not a WeWork [popular co-working space], but when fast casuals tend to die out in the afternoon, we want to make our space available when there’s need from one of these organizations,” said Ivanovic.
The space is certainly conducive to gathering, and all materials, colors, and structures mirror the table cultures of the cuisines that are represented on the menu. The dining room has everything from low tables resembling what you’d find in the Middle East to high-top tables out of a European cafe to an area for sitting cross-legged.
The restaurant’s owners are Schechter, a former political consultant, Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger, an Argentine businessman, and Enrique Limardo, a renowned Venezuelan Chef whose restaurant Seven Reasons was just named Washington Post’s #1 restaurant in 2019. Oslobodjenje’s Washington Correspondent Tea Ivanovic is the Communications Director and minority partner.
“It’s a restaurant that celebrates the successes of past immigrants and positively impacts today’s immigrants who have come to America to remake their lives. This is our small contribution to the fight against a new intolerance in America,” said Schechter, whose mother was a chain migrant from Germany, fleeing Nazi prosecution in the late 1930s.
“Immigrant Food is a restaurant that reflects how cool immigrants are, and how fundamental they are to the American economy, to the culture, to the lifestyle,” said Ivanovic.
“These days, the word ‘immigrant’ has almost become a nasty word, something to be embarrassed of. Yet immigrants and their children are a huge economic driving force. They built many of the cutting-edge companies that transform our lives, employ thousands of U.S. workers and make Americans proud. 55% of America’s billion- dollar startups have an immigrant founder. The current CEOs of Microsoft, Google, Tesla, Uber, and Oracle were all born overseas. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, America’s largest company, was the son of a Syrian immigrant. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was raised by an immigrant father,” explained Ivanovic.
While there are currently no Balkan-inspired bowls on the menu, Chef Enrique is intrigued by our regions gastronomy and sees potential to include some of most delicious food. “I’m endlessly curious and would love to include as many immigrant gastronomies into our menu as possible,” said Chef Enrique.
“We wanted to pay tribute to the two largest immigrant groups in Washington D.C., Ethiopians and Salvadorians. This bowl concept is something we hope to replicate when we expand to different cities in the U.S.,” explained Vazquez-Ger, who is optimistic about Immigrant Food’s growth opportunities.
“We’re already in negotiations for a second location, here in D.C.”
Written by Ema Dzananovic