Global café brings international cuisine & immigrant empowerment to Crosstown Concourse

Four years ago, while she was vacationing in Ventura, California, Memphian Sabine Langer had a 22-mile conversation. 

While on a run with a local running group, she struck up a conversation with a fellow participant and future business partner, Chef Juan Viramontes. 

“When you’ve got 22 miles to run, you’ve got everything under the sun to talk about,” said Viramontes, whose chef training began with a seventh-grade home economics course at his junior high school in California, where he learned how to shop for, prepare and serve a wide variety of meals.

Viramontes, who emigrated with his family from Mexico to California as a child, and Langer, a Memphis transplant originally from Switzerland, continued their friendship through social media.

“Last December, she sent me a message and said she had a project in mind and thought I’d be a great fit, if I was willing to relocate to Memphis,” Viramontes said.

Given the harsh divisiveness regarding immigrants and refugees currently permeating the nation’s political climate, Langer sought a way to help build bridges.

“Food connects people,” she said.

Langer decided to launch a café that would provide immigrant and refugee food entrepreneurs the opportunity to support their families by selling homemade cuisine inspired by their home countries, while providing Memphians with delicious, affordable meals that would inspire them to learn more about the cultures of their neighbors.

Related: "Binghampton Development Corporation provides growth opportunities for food entrepreneurs" 

She asked Viramontes if he would manage Global Café, and in April, he relocated to the Bluff City.

“When she mentioned it was going to be refugees and immigrants in the kitchen, I was sold,” he said. “I said, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”

Global Café is slated to open in late July inside Crosstown Concourse. Located near the atrium, between The Curb Market and Lucy J Bakery, the modern International food hall will feature cuisine whipped up by food entrepreneurs from Sudan, Nepal and Syria.

Langer developed the concept while involved with different programs in the city’s Binghampton neighborhood – home to Memphis residents of nearly 20 nationalities – such as the Refugee Empowerment Program and Kaleidoscope Kitchen, a nonprofit that prepares minority entrepreneurs to establish successful food businesses.

Related: "Raised in refugee camps: Meeting the early education needs of Memphis immigrants"

Kaleidoscope Kitchen, managed by Langer’s friend, Olivia Haslop of Binghampton Development Corporation, is the city’s first kitchen incubator. It provides aspiring food entrepreneurs with low-priced rental of a licensed kitchen, technical and business training, and opportunities to sell their food.

Langer wanted to create additional opportunities for food entrepreneurs in the form of a brick-and-mortar café in Memphis’ bustling mixed-use Crosstown Concourse where immigrant and refugee chefs could offer meals to residents, workers and visitors.

“The Crosstown neighborhood is home to a very diverse population representing many different countries,” Langer said. “Global Café aims to be a gathering place to bring together guests from all different walks of life, interested in learning more about different cultures and enjoying wonderful ethnic food.”

Global Cafe's primary mission is to provide a space for immigrant and refugee food entrepreneurs to make a living by selling food from their home country.

Related: "Binghampton immigrants sell food to share their stories"

“Our secondary goal is to provide a space where everyone is welcome and we can all learn from each other,” she said. “I'd say we are the poster child for Crosstown Concourse's ‘Better Together’ motto.”

The café will launch with three immigrant and refugee food entrepreneurs and their staff, and the three food concepts may evolve over time into cuisine from different countries, especially if a concept becomes successful enough to leave and stand on its own.

“Our mission will be all about the entrepreneurs' success, whether within or outside our walls,” Langer said. “We don’t have set timelines to rotate concepts. Food entrepreneurs are welcome to stay as long or as little as they'd like.”

Ibti, from Sudan, in known for her tasty soups. Indra, from Nepal, is known for her delicious dumplings, and Fayha, from Syria, is said to serve up the savoriest kabobs around. [The entrepreneurs asked to not have their last names printed.]

Related: "Refugee's catering venture brings Sudan to Memphis tables"

“The beauty of the concept is that customers will not have to stick to one cuisine,” Langer said. “They can taste it all — have an appetizer from Nepal, a main dish from Syria, and a dessert from Sudan.”

In addition to serving as general manager and head bartender at Global Café, Viramontes plans to occasionally offer Mexican dishes.

The food hall will also offer catering options and host events, including a July grand opening celebration, with details to be announced.

“We’re looking forward to joining the Crosstown community, and we hope that even those who are not too comfortable at the thought of trying ethnic food will give us a try,” Langer said. “I guarantee they will be pleasantly surprised, at a minimum.”

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Read more articles by Aisling Maki.

Aisling Maki is a writer and editor with awards from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Public Relations Society of America. Her work has appeared in publications in more than 20 countries and she has written locally for more than a dozen publications, including The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent Magazine. She previously worked as a digital producer and weekend reporter for Action News 5, Memphis correspondent for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and staff reporter for Memphis Daily News.