Food

An Advocacy Restaurant Called “Immigrant Food” Is Opening by the White House

The chef behind Seven Reasons is behind the "cause-casual" cafe's melting-pot menu.

Immigrant Food co-founders (and Seven Reasons owners) Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger (left) and chef Enrique Limardo. Photograph by Jennifer Chase

Cause-driven businesses have been on rise around Washington in the Trump era, whether it’s female activist apparel company, The Outrage, or Foodhini, a meal delivery service highlighting refugee chefs. Now open: a “cause-casual” (and fast-casual) restaurant called Immigrant Food. The  globetrotting menu is being designed by Seven Reasons chef Enrique Limardo, and the space will double as an advocacy hub. It’ll also function as an activation space for five local immigrant-focused nonprofits—all located a block from the White House. 

A team of first-and-second-generation Americans is behind the restaurant: Limardo, a native Venezuelan who’s cooked around the world; political consultant and Seven Reasons co-owner Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger; and Peter Schechter, a global affairs specialist who served on the board of José Andrés‘s ThinkFoodGroup’s DC restaurants for 14 years. Schechter, who also hosts the Altamar foreign policy podcast, says he was motivated to launch Immigrant Food over a year ago when Trump began targeting chain migration.

“Each one of us, at some moment, gets particularly touched by one of [Trump’s] rants,” says Schechter, whose mother, a German Jew, was brought to America by an aunt when fleeing Hamburg in 1936. “We all do things in our own ways. I thought, ‘Where do immigrants always share their culture first with fellow Americans?’ It’s food.”

Photograph courtesy of Immigrant Food

Though Andrés isn’t affiliated with the project, Schechter says he received a blessing from “the godfather of engaged gastronomy” for the concept. Activism will play a role throughout the day. Limardo’s food here is an homage to the vast culinary influence of immigrants (see the menu below). Bowls blend ingredients and techniques from major groups. Take the “Columbia Road”—a nod to the Ethiopian and Salvadoran communities near Adams Morgan—which mixes African lentils and spiced steak with Latin loroco flowers (all bowls can be made vegan or vegetarian). Seating throughout the two-story space, designed by Michelle Bove of DesignCase (Maydan, Chloe), will reflect how different immigrant communities dine—a mix of low settings, platform seats, Western tables, and space for sitting cross-legged.

Displayed next to the food menu will be an “engagement menu.” The latter will be regularly updated with ways patrons can support immigrant causes from their nonprofit partners, whether it’s a quick dollar donation at the register, or information about volunteer opportunities and upcoming rallies.  

“We’re presuming a lot of people are like us, who wake up in the morning and think ‘Wow, this just doesn’t feel like America. What can I do to help?’” says Schechter. “But then you don’t know how to help.”

Immigrant Food co-founder Peter Schechter. Photograph by Semana

In the late afternoon, when business wanes for fast-casuals downtown, the space (formerly Eatsa) will be available to five prominent local nonprofits for immigrant services like English language classes, citizenship classes, legal help. Those include Ayuda, which provides legal, social, and language services; the Asian American Pacific Legal Resource Center; the CAIR Coalition; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which works with vulnerable DC youth. The restaurant will often be open for meals during those times, too.

Immigrant Food will also publish a free, millennial-focused online magazine, The Think Table, which will dissect various issues—dreamers, sanctuary cities, asylum. The restaurant is specifically designed for the 25-to-40 crowd, with those now-popular experiential touches—say a photo booth, where patrons can point to their origin country on a map and get a photo texted to their phone with a framed message: “We’re all immigrants.”

Schechter says you may see more Immigrant Foods around DC (or elsewhere) in the future.

“It’s definitely not a pop-up store or a one-time restaurant. Celebrating immigrants is what we want to do, whether or not Trump is in office.”

Immigrant Food. 1701 Pennslyvania Ave., NW. Hours: 11 AM to 7 PM.

This story has been updated from an earlier version with new information from the restaurant. 

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.