Restaurant Hospitality's inaugural Power List this year focuses on restaurant operators who use their businesses to change the world in big and small ways. We call them Change Agents. See the full list >>
Company: Foodhini, Washington, D.C.
Change: Hiring immigrant refugee chefs and helping them sell their home recipes direct to customers
Noobtsaa Philip Vang, founder and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Foodhini, has lifted a lamp beside the golden door.
Vang serves as something of a culinary-commerce version of the Emma Lazarus sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which lent its “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” lines to the Statue of Liberty.
The son of two Hmong refugees who fled Laos during the Vietnam War and immigrated to the U.S. Midwest, Vang envisions Foodhini as an online restaurant delivering multicultural meals created by immigrant chefs, many of them refugees from war-torn regions of the world.
Foodhini delivers a world tour: Eritrean, Ethiopian, Filipino, Iranian, Lao and Syrian cuisines.
“Our mission is to hire immigrant refugee chefs and help them sell their home recipes direct to customers,” Vang said. “It’s the people behind the food that make a great meal.”
Vang knows the struggle from his own upbringing. His mom arrived in the United States after the Vietnam War, not speaking English and with little education.
“She was working a lot of odd jobs when I was growing up, so I didn’t see her that much,” Vang recalled.
“But she always found time to cook us amazing food.”
When Vang moved to Washington in 2014 to attend graduate school at Georgetown University, he missed his mother’s amazing food and thought others would enjoy the comforting dishes of immigrant communities.
“Many immigrant and refugee communities face financial, educational and cultural barriers that can limit their access to sustainable living-wage jobs,” Vang said.
“By providing a platform for communities of diaspora to use their existing culinary skills to prepare and sell their home-cooked cultural cuisines, Foodhini empowers these communities.”
Foodhini works on a shared-revenue model, with a percentage of purchased meal income going directly to the chefs. The immigrant chefs prepare their meals out of Foodhini’s certified commercial kitchen to assure quality.
Food is love, and Foodhini has an underlying mission of fostering goodwill. With each meal, chefs add a personal note to the customer.
“You can’t hate somebody who feeds you,” Vang said.
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