Plate of Nations showcases immigrant family run restaurants in Seattle's Rainier Valley
BY RACHEL BELLE, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Last year Letina Tewel opened her first restaurant, Momona Cafe, cooking Eritrean cuisine in the Rainier Valley.
"Mostly my food is African food, especially my country Eritrea."
Letina studied cooking for two years in Eritrea, with Italian nuns in a monastery.
"Because my country is Italian colonized. That's why Italian food is my country's; lasagna, spaghetti."
She has always dreamed of opening restaurant.
"Before, I live Atlanta. I'm working nursing home, in the gas station, but my dream is restaurant. My mind everyday is, I need restaurant. After long time, Seattle I'm coming. I'm open restaurant."
Letina's restaurant is one of twelve participating in Plate of Nations, a two week long promotion of Rainier Valley restaurants that are owned by immigrant families.
"To get people out and to have them try new things and to bring more customers into the area," says Sarah Valenta, community development manager at HomeSight. "It's all really unique food, we have Eritrean, we have Ethiopian, we have Mexican, Thai, Laos, Mediterranean, halal. You can really sample food from around the world just along the strip of MLK."
Valenta visits these restaurants daily, helping owners navigate paperwork and composting requirements and connect them with vendors.
During Plate of Nations, restaurants offer special $15 and $25 tasting menus for sharing.
"We're really proud to be able to offer enough food to feed two to three people for $25, which is kind of remarkable when you think about it," says Valenta.
Alavy Les owns Olympic Express, a halal Asian restaurant that his parents opened in 1986 and passed down to him and his brothers. He was the first to participate in Plate of Nations five years ago.
"I love this neighborhood, this is home to me," says Les. "I grew up here since in the 80's. People used to be really scared when you said 'south end,' nobody wants to come to south end because it's the 'hood, you get shot at. But that's not what it is. This is the best place. I would rather live here than in Bellevue or Issaquah or any other place. Because it's so diverse here. 98118 is the most diverse zip code in the whole nation. You could find more than 50 languages spoken just around this area. It's the best place to live."
Since he's taken over the restaurant, he's experimented with new combinations.
"One of our famous ones here is the gyro fried rice. So we took the Chinese fried rice and then we took the gyro meat, which is the Mediterranean lamb mixed with beef, and we would fry that into the fried rice. You can't find that anywhere! I don't know if anyone does that, and it's bomb."
He says Plate of Nations gives mom and pop restaurants the free advertising they need to bring in new customers from other regions. And the hope is, once they come once, they'll want to come back and try something new.
"It's heaven for the people that loves to eat," says Les. "All kinds of restaurants here. The prices are really good 'cause you in the 'hood so it's not overpriced, you know!"
Received on Sat Apr 11 2015 - 12:02:01 EDT