Through free meals and advocacy for marginalized groups, the New York City restaurant La Morada is working to establish itself as a sanctuary space for its community.
When the pandemic first hit, owners Natalia Mendez, her husband Antonio Saavedra, and their daughter Yajaira Saavedra organized a GoFundMe to support the restaurant. Within a week, the fundraiser reached its goal of US$45,000. But, instead of using the money to run the restaurant as usual, the owners started a soup kitchen to feed their community.
“We wanted to give back to the community,” Yajaira tells Food Tank. “We are feeding folks that just settled down in a shelter, folks affected by COVID-19, folks whose landlords are trying to evict them.”
The Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded Mexican restaurant started the soup kitchen in April. At the height of the pandemic, they served 1,000 to 2,000 meals per day. Although the demand has decreased slightly, they are still supplying at least 650 meals daily.
“We always try to provide meals to everyone who asks,” says Yajaira. “Our main goal is to help our neighbors through mutual aid…we want to make sure the community gets the best possible help.”
To carry out this work, La Morada is receiving help from Rethink Food as well as chefs at high-end restaurants. Yajaira says that they choose to partner with organizations that support the same movements, like Black Lives Matter, as the restaurant.
La Morada is also working to create an activism space that supports marginalized groups. In the past, the restaurant served as a location for community art shows and an organizing place for groups fighting gentrification.
While La Morada receives support from its partners and the community, Yajaira explains that the business remains vulnerable due to her family’s undocumented immigration status.
The family’s immigration status prevents them from receiving benefits from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. And though they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other small business loans, they were denied any form of relief.
Yajaira hopes that the federal government will enact new immigration laws that could lead to more pathways to citizenship. Increased opportunities for citizenship could reduce the fear of deportation—something the family says they experience often—and help them support their livelihood.
They see the restaurant as a way to pay tribute to her family’s culinary traditions and they hope to continue this work.
In a letter to Zagat, Yajaira writes about her mole sauce, created by Indigenous people and passed down from generation to generation within her family. She explains that the tradition of crafting foods like mole motivates La Morada to act as a shelter and feed people in need.
“It’s important to pay tribute to our traditions because it makes us conscious of helping our neighbors and the environment,” Yajaira tells Food Tank. “That’s how we’re going to survive.”
Photo courtesy of La Morada Website