Memphis Global Cafe

From celebrities and chefs to local food banks and grassroots organizations, people everywhere have been pitching in to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our communities. Here’s how Global Cafe in Memphis is helping healthcare workers in a city that’s both food-insecure and extremely charitable.

Memphis has been a long-time hub for the civil rights movement and more recently, food activism. Global Cafe is no exception.

Located in Crosstown Concourse—a former Sears distribution building that has been transformed into a 1,200,000 square foot mixed use space—the international food hall hosts three immigrant/refugee food entrepreneurs cooking and selling an eclectic mix of affordably priced, authentic dishes from their home countries, which currently includes a delicious mix of Syrian, Sudanese and Venezuelan cuisine. Think: delectable arepas, amazingly tender shawarma, and freshly made baba ganoush.

Since the COVID-19 crisis, the Global Cafe team has been putting their culinary ingenuity to work feeding overtaxed medical professionals and people economically impacted by the virus. For a small donation, they’ll buy food, cook it, and deliver it to people in need.

So far, they’ve cooked and delivered hundreds of meals to the night ER shift at LeBohneur Germantown, the physicians at LeBonheur, the respiratory ICU unit at Baptist East, as well as First Congo Food Justice Ministry in Midtown and the staff of Church Health.

Giving back to the community is part of Global Cafe’s life blood, explains owner and CEO, Sabine Langer.

“Post-election, the climate was very negative towards immigrants and refugees. As an immigrant, I wanted to find a way to make a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees. I wasn’t sure exactly how but after lots of research, it became apparent that I could help some of the women I had met that were cooking on the side trying to make an additional income to support their families,” she says.

By empowering immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs to set up food businesses with zero start-up cost, Langer says that the food hall has been a wonderful catalyst for many of the team members.

“One of our chefs was able to pay off her house, another one was able to purchase a house, and our trusted dishwasher recently bought a car. It’s fantastic to see this and it warms my heart to know that we are true to our mission and really making a difference in everyone’s lives,” she says.

As immigrant entrepreneurs, the Global Cafe team knows just how important it is to help others during uncertain times—especially fellow Memphians. In 2011, a Gallup poll identified Memphis as the most “food insecure” city in the United States. For many citizens, reliable access to nutritious food continues to be an issue.

As Langer explains, “Memphis has a large underserved population, who was hungry before. This pandemic and all the job losses have affected an already very vulnerable segment of the population.”

Related Reading: Where to Find Food Assistance During the COVID-19 Crisis

With that being said, Memphis is primed to help. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Memphis #1 as the most charitable city in the U.S. in 2018.

“We see it every day. People are generous and so supportive,” says Langer.

For now, Global Cafe is doing what they do best: feeding the community with delicious and nutritious food. The team started by making family meals, but have since switched to delivering individual meals to keep everyone keep safe and avoid potential cross contamination.

This includes hearty portions of their signature favorites. “Chef Fayha usually sends chicken kebabs with tzatziki sauce and mixed vegetables with rice. Chef Ibti sends her newly popular seasoned fried chicken with homemade BBQ sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, her chicken shawarma with rice or her dama with rous [beef with rice]. Chef Maria sends her vegan plate, her asado negro with rice, or her new popular pollo guisado with rice,” says Langer.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. As Langer shares, “one service I delivered to was so excited that they said they wanted to run to the other service to rub it in their faces. It was nice to see that they are still keeping their sense of humor and spunk!”

While Langer is worried that at some point the demand for food will outweigh the supply, she’s focused on keeping as many employees working as possible so that they can continue to support their families. Cooking is part of their chefs’ DNA, says Langer.

“They say that their #1 ingredient is love. Continuing to cook is their way of sharing love and contributing to the community.”

If you’d like to help, see how to donate.

Header image courtesy of Global Cafe

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