Less than a block away from the White House, restaurant Immigrant Food aims to unite people at the table through globally inspired fusion bowls that reinforce positive immigration sentiments.
The restaurant opened on November 12, 2019—coincidentally on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the cases on Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Founded by Enrique Limardo, Peter Shechter, and Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger, Immigrant Food seeks to reconstruct the current attitudes surrounding immigration through gastroadvocacy—using food to advocate for a cause.
“Immigrant Food ‘marries’ food and immigration advocacy. As a small business startup, we don’t have the cash to be philanthropic donors. That’s why we see traditional corporate responsibility in a whole new way. In this moment of division, we want to create easy paths for all of us to help immigrant communities in need,” explains Téa Ivanovic, the Director of Communications and Outreach at Immigrant Food. The restaurant partnered with five nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help accomplish this goal.
Immigrant Food unites people by connecting customers with their impact partners. In addition to Limardo’s menu, the restaurant offers an engagement menu, which lists options, such as volunteer positions at NGOs and dates of protests, to encourage diners to contribute to the cause.
And the restaurant hosts Wine Wednesdays where “for free, people can come in and participate in a conversation on a different topic in immigration while enjoying the eclectic happy hour menu designed by Chef Enrique Limardo,” Ivanovic tells Food Tank.
When the restaurant is closed, they offer the upstairs loft for NGOs to convene and provide English classes, workshops, legal clinics, and assistance with job search for immigrants.
Both Limardo and Vázquez-Ger worked in food-related industries, Limardo as a chef and restaurateur and Vázquez-Ger as a restaurateur and entrepreneur. Schechter, on the other hand, worked with larger political corporations prior to his endeavor with Immigrant Food.
“The idea of Immigrant Food bridges two parallel lanes of my professional life: politics and advocacy on the one hand; food on the other,” Schechter explains when he tells Food Tank about his career transition. “When I worked as a consultant, I represented politicians, political parties, countries, and companies seeking strategic advice by using communications to solve problems… [Immigrant Food] also [uses] communications to advocate for immigrants, to partner with important NGOs and to make our own, small contribution to the fight against a new intolerance in America.”
Despite their different professional backgrounds, the three co-founders share a commonality of being first-generation immigrants. “In 2018, I commemorated the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death,” says Schechter. “My mother and father were both immigrants to the U.S. and this decade anniversary of my mom’s passing coincided with the surge of negative rhetoric against immigrants.”
“Today, it seems like the word ‘immigrant’ has almost become a bad word,” notes Ivanovic. Since the restaurant opened, U.S. President Donald Trump issued new regulations on American immigration policies that could reduce the presence of immigrants, like restrictions on H-1B visas that affect foreign workers. “We don’t feel that way, and we also know that the vast majority of Americans (75 percent according to this year’s Gallup poll) believe that immigration is good for the United States.”
“We’re proud that Immigrant Food celebrates America’s story, which is really the story of immigrants and their hugely positive impact on our country’s economy, culture, and of course, food,” says Schechter. “But we’re even more proud to help today’s immigrants by advocating on behalf of fairness and justice.”