by Tim Sampson
Few topics hit the hot button in the United States these days more than immigration and refugees entering the country. With heated rhetoric about dangerous caravans, potential terrorists, and building walls, it was the stuff many political campaigns were made of during the recent November elections. And while the subject is palpably front and center with Global Café’s founder and CEO Sabine Langer, an immigrant from Switzerland herself, the controversy seems calmed down a notch by the cuisine three refugee chefs are preparing in this new epicurean addition to Crosstown Concourse in Midtown Memphis.
Langer, who chose to move to the United States and has been in Memphis five years after living in Southern California, is an unlikely restaurateur; she’s a vegan who can’t stand to even boil an egg. But when she got involved at the Binghampton Development Corporation a few years ago through a Kresge Foundation grant the community received, she saw that food seemed a common theme that brought and could bring more people from different cultures together in Memphis. Moreover, it could provide much-needed income and economic empowerment for many who were already known for the delicious food they prepared.
“When refugees land in America,” Langer explains, “they are immediately in debt because they have to repay the money for their flight and the flights of their families here. Many times they have to work multiple jobs to pay off that debt alone, despite how many degrees they may have from universities in their countries of origin.”
After more than a year of planning which countries’ cuisines would be represented based on the food itself and the available cooks in Memphis, Global Café opened in August 2018 in an industrial chic but cozy spot at Crosstown adjacent to the Curb Market. In the three open-air kitchen bays where diners can watch the cooking taking place, chef Fayha Sakkan represents Syria; chef Ibti Salih cooks the cuisine of her home country of Sudan, and chef Indra Sunuwar dishes up her already-famous Mo Mo dumplings and other delicacies from her native Nepal. The restaurant’s manager and bartender is Juan Viramontes, a chef who emigrated from Mexico to California as a child and who moved to Memphis specifically to manage Global Café. Other employees are from Zambia, Somalia, and Bhutan.
For true foodies, the menu at Global Café is not overly exotic, with dishes like hummus, samosas, kabobs, and stuffed grape leaves. But as the chefs grind spices, chop peppers, puree soups, stir large pots of stews, and mix ingredients native to their homelands and sometimes hard to find in Memphis, it’s obvious that the food is fresh, interesting, and authentic. It’s also inexpensive with no item on the menu more than $10.
“We were intent on making this very affordable to everyone,” Langer says. “We want people from the neighborhood to eat here, people visiting Church Health here at Crosstown, and the other many immigrants and refugees who can get a meal like something they would have at home. It’s really a place for everyone.”
1350 Concourse Avenue #157
Memphis, TN 38104