Pop on 30th: Nonprofit Serving Immigrants, Refugees Helps Restaurants Offer Outside Dining

Several restaurants and a nonprofit that prepares immigrants and refugees for jobs in the kitchen are now working together to make it through the pandemic

Pop on 30th
Anchi Mei

A North Park nonprofit serving people experiencing humanitarian crisis teamed up with neighborhood restaurants to give them a venue to serve customers outdoors.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is committed to helping refugees and immigrants learn to cook and garden in the space along St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on 30th Street.

Now that restaurants are forced to operate outdoors or indoors with limited capacity, the nonprofit is using its space to help restaurants while keeping the networking pipeline open for its clients.

Anchi Mei is the program director of the Make Project, a consortium of IRC's food-based social enterprises in San Diego, which operates as a café employing IRC’s clients.

The program helps refugees and immigrants from all over the world learn to cook food grown in the IRC garden that is served in the cafe one day a week.

"They’re all working side by side in the kitchen or in the farm," said Mei. "A lot are experiencing the same challenges here in America."

The pandemic stalled the nonprofit's programs while also closing nearby restaurants, and that got Mei thinking.

“Hey, this is crazy, but do you wanna do any sort of al fresco dining?” said Mei, recounting her conversation with restaurant owners.

That is how Pop On 30th came to be. Neighborhood restaurants with limited or no outdoor seating are invited to set up shop at IRC's garden lot. Live music provides the soundtrack for a customer experience the restaurants may not otherwise be able to offer, which also helps their bottom line

The events also help build connections between IRC and the restaurants in the hopes they could lead to jobs for clients in immigrant and refugee communities.

Chelsea Coleman is a co-owner of the Rose Wine Bar, which is now open. She previously helped mock interview some of IRC’s clients and was even planning to hire a few at her new restaurant venture, which has stalled because of the pandemic.

“They’re not just looking for a job, they love food. The way they talk about food is so inspiring,” said Coleman.

The Rose Wine Bar will be featured at Pop on 30th this Saturday, Sept. 12th. For more information about reservations and events, head to Make Project's website.

"This is still a long road ahead so I think it's really important that we are figuring out as many ways that we can keep supporting each other’s businesses," said Mei.

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