Following a successful three-month pop-up in Williamsburg, New York relief group the Migrant Kitchen is preparing to relocate to a more permanent home in the Financial District. The pop-up will continue to serve its popular Arab-Latin cuisine from 81 Pearl Street, between William and Broad Streets, where it will share a kitchen with Beckett’s Bar and Grill.
“While our [Williamsburg] pop-up is coming to a close on 12/9, the need for our work is not,” Jaber tells Eater in an email. “The global hunger crisis is only getting worse, especially here in NYC and we remain deeply committed to feeding the most vulnerable.”
The pop-up is scheduled to open for takeout and delivery on December 16, according to Migrant Kitchen co-founder Nasser Jaber, and like its Brooklyn predecessor, the goal is both personal and philanthropic. The menu focuses on Arab-Latin cuisine, though not the al pastor or tacos árabes more common in New York. Pork shawarma is reimagined here as a carnitas torta with cilantro and pickled onions, while the Mexican street corn is slathered in sumac and labneh. Palestinian mahshi, squash stuffed with rice and other fillings, is made using plátanos maduros instead.
Chef Lisselly Brito, a Dominican-American chef who grew up in the Bronx, is heading the kitchen at the new location, while chefs Alex Hernandez and Antonia Basurto, two Ilili alums, are coming to Pearl Street from the Williamsburg pop-up, as well. The trio is working on a handful of new menu items for the Pearl Street pop-up, which Jaber has apparently been sworn to secrecy over. “She will kill me if I talk about something that doesn’t end up happening,” Jaber jokes.
The pairing of Mediterranean and Latin American cooking styles has been well-received at the team’s Williamsburg pop-up, but for Jaber — a Palestinian-Mexican and an immigrant from Palestine — the pop-up’s menu is also deeply personal. “It’s not just about the food or the quality,” both of which are good, he says. “These are two populations that have been vilified by the Trump administration over the last four years.” Putting these cuisines in the spotlight is part of the reason for popping up at all.
Another part is the company’s philanthropic mission: To tackle the city’s growing food insecurity crisis, especially heading into the holidays. For every meal purchased at the restaurant, the Migrant Kitchen will donate one meal to a food insecure New Yorker. Customers at the pop-up can also donate to the restaurant directly via its website.
Jaber co-founded the company with fellow Ilili alum Daniel Dorado in October 2019 (Jaber was “just a waiter,” as he put it, while Dorado helmed the kitchen at the acclaimed Lebanese restaurant.) The duo debuted the Migrant Kitchen as a small catering business focused on office lunches and private events but within a few months, it grew into a citywide relief effort following the onset of the pandemic. By May, the company was consistently producing 10,000 meals a day for healthcare workers and food insecure New Yorkers.
In September, the Migrant Kitchen launched a pop-up out of a vacant restaurant space in Williamsburg, where it served a menu of Arab-Latin dishes for takeout and delivery. The first pop-up was a way to bring visibility to the company’s team of queer and indigenous chefs who are often sidelined by the food industry, Jaber says, but it also helped raise funds for the company’s philanthropic efforts. For every $12 spent by customers at the pop-up, the Migrant Kitchen donated a meal to a New Yorker in need.
A little over a year after opening its doors as a catering company, the team is now looking to expand its takeout and delivery presence with something more permanent. Come January the Migrant Kitchen has plans to expand with a brick-and-mortar kitchen in Harlem, where it will offer a similar menu to its pop-up and offer meals to residents in the neighborhood. Two additional locations — one in the forthcoming Urbanspace food hall at Union Square and a second in New Jersey’s sprawling American Dream shopping mall — are also in the works, though leases have yet to be signed.
As the team looks to expand its takeout and delivery business, they are also building out an 8,000-square-foot kitchen space in Long Island City. The new space — set to open June 1 — will function as a central kitchen for the company’s New York City operations and offer on-site programs like daycare and after-school programs for children of employees. Pay for all of the kitchen’s employees will start at $20 to $25 per hour.
“Hunger in Queens is extremely real, especially among undocumented folks,” Jaber says. “If we start a kitchen that allows for mobility, allows for employees to take care of their kids, you can change the script completely.”