I had never been a fan of soup kitchens. Dealing with bums and shit, it wasn’t my thing. Bowery mission and food bank NYC, great organisations, I’d just had bad dealings with the crackheads in my block and the heroin addicts who sleepwalk around me. That’s fucked up to say, I know. I’d already worked in massive kitchens, and I didn’t need to cook for these people on my days off.
Then I realised I was a dick. Not just a regular dick, like a massive one. I didn’t know I was one till I went to Rio, Brazil, to cook at the Refettorio Gastromotiva. The refettorio fed 100 homeless people a day with surplus products that didn’t sell at markets that day. Chef David Hertz ran the project, and we got connected by chef René Redzepi, which is another story on its own. The number of people and their looks of satisfaction at getting a meal that day changed my whole perspective. I then realised soup kitchens were a bridge to humanity, and to be human you have to have compassion.
Fast forward a few years. I’ve been coming to Philadelphia for a long time now. To eat, mainly. But for the last couple of years I’ve been collaborating with an organisation called South Philly Barbacoa. They work tirelessly on immigration reform, and the leader Christina and her husband, Ben Miller, have done everything to make it happen. From panel events to pop-ups to soup kitchens, it has been a hub for social justice and social impact for years.
I got approached to do a coffee shop project, and I thought ‘why not Philly?’ Great coffee town. We can masterfully curate something great. The investor who wanted to partner up is a local executive named Miles Watson. He has worked hard in the community to bring after-school programmes in the inner city of Brotherly Love. We met through a mutual friend, and we hit it off because of our love for business and community. But for me, the idea of just doing business with someone scares me - I need to know who this person is. I’ve had experiences of doing business with a lot of unsavoury characters, and I need to make sure we are on the up and up.