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Q&A: The Migrant Kitchen on Tech and Equality in the Restaurant Industry

How the social good food company leverages technology to provide access to meaningful work and pay for immigrants and non-immigrants in their restaurant

a group of people posing for the camera

There is a national conversation about equity and equality in the restaurant industry — particularly around paying a fair living wage. And behind it, more and more organizations and brands have started laying the path for real structural change and equality in the industry. Organizations like The Migrant Kitchen have actively worked toward this goal since their inception. 

The concept for The Migrant Kitchen started in October 2019, when friends, Nasser Jaber and Dan Dorado teamed up to create a long-dreamt-of catering business that focused on providing meaningful opportunities for immigrants to showcase the cuisines and cultures of their home countries while earning more than just minimum wage. But as the short course of history shows, COVID-19 changed everything. As the pandemic effectively left thousands of New Yorkers jobless overnight, they shifted focus to provide food to those in need. Within months, The Migrant Kitchen was serving over 60,000 meals a week to food insecure communities across New York City. 

We spoke with Charlie Balsam, Marketing Director at The Migrant Kitchen to learn about their mission and vision and how they leverage technology in the restaurant and catering space to provide opportunities for migrants and those in need in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Staff members of The Migrant Kitchen

What is The Migrant Kitchen’s mission?

We believe that EVERYONE deserves to eat well and it is our mission to give everyone we possibly can the ability to do so. So we bring our Arab-Latin fusion food to all - from busy professionals in search of a quick delicious bite to food-insecure families looking for a steady source of high-quality healthy meals.

How many people does The Migrant Kitchen employ? How many people do you serve?

As of January 2021, TMK (The Migrant Kitchen) has 18 full-time employees. Between our crisis relief efforts and charitable feeding through our nonprofit arm, TMK Initiative, we served over 2.5 million meals in 2020.

How has COVID-19 shaped The Migrant Kitchen’s mission and vision for its future?

We always knew we had a responsibility to uplift the people within our organization by offering our immigrant employee base fair wages, opportunities for growth and services like financial and legal counsel. But COVID-19 taught us that we have a responsibility to extend those same efforts to our entire communities. Our mission of giving everyone access to healthy and delicious meals can only be achieved if we work together and look out for one another in times of hardship and in prosperity, which is why we launched our “Buy A Meal, Give A Meal” initiative. For every $12 spent at TMK, we donate a meal to a New Yorker in need.

A staff member of The Migrant Kitchen plating to-go boxes

What technologies have you implemented into everyday operations? How has COVID-19 influenced those decisions, if at all?

Platforms like Toast and of course BentoBox have been implemented. Since so much of the restaurant business has moved to delivery, we rely on platforms like these to help drive business in the digital realm while we wait for in-person dining to come back online.

What has been The Migrant Kitchen’s impact on the NYC community? Has that changed during the pandemic?

The vast majority of the 2.5 million meals we served to those in need last year were served to our neighbors here in NYC. We hired restaurant workers who had been laid off to cook those meals, yellow cab and uber drivers short on fares to distribute them and partnered with local nonprofits and government agencies to make sure they went to residents in all five boroughs that were most in need. Nearly 13% of NYC residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from and we are proud to be an organization that is dedicated to fighting that.

As advocates for a living wage and equality in the restaurant industry, what actions have The Migrant Kitchen taken toward seeing this to fruition? In what ways can others in the industry do the same?

In the hospitality industry, the workers that are its backbone —  immigrants, refugees, the disenfranchised — are too often left in the shadows or not showcased at all when we celebrate restaurants and food. We are proud to be an organization that gives credit where credit is due — all the way down the line and we are not afraid to be loud about it. We offer all of our employees fair wages, financial and legal counsel and growth opportunities for those interested. We strive to create an environment where you can start as a dishwasher and work your way up to running your own restaurant and set an example for restaurants everywhere to take a more nurturing approach towards their employees.

A man and a woman dining at The Migrant Kitchen while an employee serves them food and drinks

How can individuals or organizations get involved in The Migrant Kitchen?

The best way to support us is to buy a meal to give a meal through ordering delivery from our website. Those looking to stay up to date on ways to get involved can subscribe to our newsletter, which can also be done on our website.

Why do you choose to partner with BentoBox? What attracted you to the platform?

There’s always so much going on in the kitchen and out in the field, BentoBox takes a lot of the website work off of our plate so we can focus on making delicious food and feeding people! You’re big supporters of all our work and we appreciate having you in our corner!

How does Bentobox help you reach your company goals? What goals do you hope to achieve with BentoBox?

We hope to continue to spread the word about “Buy A Meal, Give A Meal” and drive more traffic online so we can continue to feed everyone in NYC — not just those in need but those just looking for a quick, delicious meal!

The website for The Migrant Kitchen

The website for The Migrant Kitchen

What are specific items about the website that works well for your business and brand?

We are able to keep everything on brand and consistent while easily updating for new campaigns, menu items and initiatives.

To learn more about The Migrant Kitchen’s mission and latest initiatives visit their website at themigrantkitchen.com and while you’re there, be sure to support New Yorkers in need through their “Buy A Meal, Give A Meal” initiative. 

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