By Scott Etkin
The Migrant Kitchen, a casual restaurant serving food inspired by immigrant communities, is opening 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 preceded Lincoln Square and was razed by “urban renewal” in the late 1950s – makes it an auspicious location to co-founders Dan Dorado and Nasser Jaber. Dan said the existing The Migrant Kitchen on the Upper East Side is more of an “express model,” whereas the UWS location will be the company’s “flagship.”
“Our entire brand is looking through the immigrant lens,” said Nasser, which shapes the business in several ways. First, Migrant Kitchen pays its employees “fair wages” that are above minimum wage. They also seek to hire recent immigrants, including Ukrainian refugees, and help their employees find and receive support from assimilation services.
Second, The Migrant Kitchen donates a portion of its sales to provide meals to those in need through The Migrant Kitchen Initiative – similar to the way TOMS donates shoes and Warby Parker donates glasses. Nasser and Dan started The Migrant Kitchen in October 2019 and when the pandemic began, they started giving meals to frontline workers and undersupplied food pantries. Within months, The Migrant Kitchen “was serving over 60,000 meals a week to food insecure communities across NYC,” it says on their website.
Dan pointed out that the meals they donate aren’t “just ham and cheese sandwiches.” They’re “restaurant quality meals” that are also “culturally appropriate” for the people in the communities receiving them. Though the height of the pandemic is behind us, Dan feels like the issue of food insecurity has not improved. “Food pantries are still running out of food,” he said. “We do the best we can, but we can’t plug all the holes.”
The Migrant Kitchen’s menu showcases the diversity of flavors from immigrant cultures. Highlights from the UWS menu, which is expanded beyond what is served on the East Side, includes: chicken tinga empanadas, a cauliflower shawarma wrap, sumac roasted potato wedges, and a grilled halloumi and chorizo bowl. Even the mac and cheese side has a unique twist – it’s made with Oaxaca cheese and za’atar breadcrumbs.
Nasser is originally from Palestine and Dan was born in Los Angeles to parents from Mexico. After moving to the U.S., Nasser worked in restaurants to pay his way through school, and ended up discovering that his true passion is for food. Similarly, Dan fell in love with restaurants while working in them during college. He eventually went on to be the Head Chef at ilili, the acclaimed Lebanese restaurant in NoMad (North of Madison Square Park). Nasser has worked with the U.S. government in Turkey and Sweden to support refugees through food hospitality and farming programs.
The Migrant Kitchen represents the “new American food,” said Dan. “It’s still “sandwiches, bowls and salads,” he said with a smile. “They’re just with different flavors, different spices and different ingredients” than we might be used to.
Starting April 19, The Migrant Kitchen will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 4pm and available for delivery.