Posted on April 16, 2022 at 06:40 by West Side Rag
By Scott Etkin
The Migrant Kitchen, a casual eatery serving cuisine inspired by immigrant communities, opens on Columbus Avenue between 67th and 68th streets on April 19.
The restaurant’s proximity to the neighborhood formerly known as San Juan Hill – the African-American, Afro-Caribbean and Puerto Rican community that predated Lincoln Square and was razed by “urban renewal” in the late 1950s – makes it a good place for co-founders Dan Dorado and Nasser Jaber. Dan said the current The Migrant Kitchen on the Upper East Side is more of an “express model”, while the UWS location will be the company’s “flagship”.
“Our whole brand looks through the lens of immigrants,” said Nasser, who shapes the business in multiple ways. First, Migrant Kitchen pays its employees “fair wages” above minimum wage. They also seek to hire recent immigrants, including Ukrainian refugees, and help their employees find and receive support from assimilation services.
Secondly, The Migrant Kitchen donates a portion of its sales to provide meals to those in need through The Migrant Kitchen Initiative – similar to how TOMS donates shoes and Warby Parker donates glasses . Nasser and Dan launched The Migrant Kitchen in October 2019 and when the pandemic hit, they began donating meals to frontline workers and understocked pantries. Within months, The Migrant Kitchen was “serving more than 60,000 meals a week to food-insecure communities across New York City,” it says on its website.
Dan pointed out that the meals they give aren’t “just ham and cheese sandwiches.” These are “restaurant-quality meals” that are also “culturally appropriate” for the people in the communities that receive them. Although the peak of the pandemic is behind us, Dan feels the food insecurity problem has not improved. “Pantries always run out of food,” he said. “We’re doing our best, but we can’t plug all the holes.”
The menu at The Migrant Kitchen showcases the diversity of flavors of immigrant cultures. Highlights of the UWS menu, which extend beyond what is served on the East Side, include: chicken tinga empanadas, cauliflower shawarma wrap, roasted potato wedges with sumac and a bowl of grilled halloumi and chorizo. Even the mac and cheese side has a unique twist – it’s made with Oaxaca cheese and za’atar crumbs.
Nasser is originally from Palestine and Dan was born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents. After moving to the United States, Nasser worked in restaurants to pay for his education and eventually discovered that his true passion was food. Similarly, Dan fell in love with restaurants while working there in college. He eventually became the head chef of ilili, the famous Lebanese restaurant in NoMad (north of Madison Square Park). Nasser has worked with the US government in Turkey and Sweden to support refugees through food and agricultural programs.
The Migrant Kitchen represents “new American cuisine,” Dan said. “It’s always ‘sandwiches, bowls and salads,'” he smiles. “They’re just with different flavors, different spices, and different ingredients” that we might be used to.
From April 19, The Migrant Kitchen will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and available for delivery.