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International Institute Rolls Out Pop-Up Dinners To Support Refugee And Immigrant Caterers

Dozens of people line up for a Thanksgiving dinner-style meal organized for immigrants and refugees at the International Institute of St. Louis on Tuesday.
Dozens of people line up for a Thanksgiving dinner-style meal organized for immigrants and refugees at the International Institute of St. Louis on Tuesday.

With large social gatherings a rarity during the pandemic, catering businesses are struggling.

But the International Institute of St. Louis is helping immigrant- and refugee-owned catering businesses find a new outlet. Starting Nov. 4, the organization is launching a physically distanced version of its popular Wednesday lunches — now Wednesday night dinners available for curbside pickup every other week.

Dinners will be served by caterers specializing in Egyptian, Bosnian and other types of cuisine.

They’ve all launched their business with the help of the institute, which assists immigrants and refugees in obtaining business licenses, loans for equipment and kitchen space.

Christina Juelfs, who is organizing the dinner program, said it’s a way to help support caterers during a difficult time for all entrepreneurs in the food industry.

“By having these pop-up dinners, it’s a way to have an option for them to serve their food, promote their business, but also do it in a way that’s safe for everyone involved, the consumer and the refugee business owner,” she said.

Customers must order online two days in advance and pick up meals between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the International Institute in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Each dinner costs $20, with $17 going to the caterer. The balance covers things like paper goods, credit card fees and other expenses paid by the institute.

Duaa Alzateri will cater the first dinner, offering Egyptian-style baba ghanoush with pita, roasted chicken, masakaa with rice and baklava.

Alzateri is a Syrian refugee who fled to Egypt, where she learned to cook before settling in St. Louis in 2016 with her husband and children. She started her business, Mira, a year later.

While the primary goal is to keep the catering businesses afloat, Juelfs said the program also aims to expose St. Louisans to new flavors.

“We’re really kind of hitting our festivegoers too, because we didn’t have Festival of Nations this past year, so it’s another opportunity to get that type of food that you wouldn’t normally see in the restaurants,” she said.

Ahead of the holidays, the institute is also working with local artists to make gift baskets, which will be delivered by immigrants working for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to make extra income.

You can sign up for the pop-up dinner at the International Institute’s website.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Corinne Ruff joined St. Louis Public Radio as the economic development reporter in April, 2019. She grew up among the cornfields in Northern Illinois and later earned degrees in Journalism and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has since reported at the international, national and local level on business, education and social justice issues.