Two menus, tons of advocacy
Restaurateur Téa Ivanovic on D.C.’s "cause-casual" Immigrant Food
Téa Ivanovic and co-founder Peter Schecter opened the first location of Immigrant Food, their Washington, D.C. restaurant, in 2019. “You know, a very good time to open a restaurant, like three months before Covid,” she joked. (We’ve heard that one a few times.)
In hindsight, the last months of 2019 were our last gasps of pre-Covid freedom, often remembered wistfully. But it was also a polarizing time in America. As its name suggests, Immigrant Food exists to highlight cuisines brought to America by its immigrants. But it’s also meant to advocate for immigrant causes and educate diners — and it opened mere steps from the Trump White House.
“It was a time when we had an administration that was openly anti-immigrant,” Ivanovic told me in a recent interview. “We felt like we were in a time in our country that was so divisive, which strangely doesn’t reflect the values we feel America has always had. It’s a land of immigrants!”
Together with founding chef Enrique Limardo, known for his modern Venezuelan cuisine and work at the helm of D.C.'s lauded Seven Reasons and the Michelin-starred Imperfecto, they developed a global fusion menu of sorts that Ivanovic calls “an ode to immigrants that have come to America.”
“The restaurant does not exist without the advocacy,” Ivanovic said. She’s talking about Immigrant Food’s engagement menu, a list of five ways to help immigrants — and it’s updated weekly in partnership with five impact partners, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offering services to immigrants. The second menu includes volunteering opportunities, donation suggestions, and recommendations for podcasts, books, and other educational resources. It’s accessible via QR code, and it’s been scanned by over 100,000 guests and counting.
It’s proof, Ivanovic says, that a small business can effectively weave social responsibility and activism into the business model without sacrificing financial goals. (The concept has grown to $3 million in annual revenue.) The concept is still young, but it’s proven, and now it’s (hopefully!) growing.
In our conversation, Ivanovic describes how this restaurant business and its equally important second mission work — but more importantly, how they work together.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Expedite: I love that the original restaurant is next to the White House.
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