in partnership
The three opening apprentices under the cafe sign (Image: Naomi Tomky)

Refugees feed Seattle at the new Ubuntu Street Café

For years, the non-profit Project Feast has trained refugees and immigrants in kitchen skills to help them find jobs in their new home, and now they have a venue in which to demonstrate their new knowledge to the public. In the historic Titusville building in downtown Kent, the Ubuntu Street Café serves up a small menu that speaks to the heritage of the apprentices that cook there.

The four-month apprenticeship begins in the classroom, but within a few weeks, moves into the Ubuntu kitchen. On Mondays, the apprentices will continue to learn in the classroom, but on Tuesdays they’ll prep in the kitchen, then they’ll work the café—which is open Weds-Fri, from 11am-1pm—for the rest of the week.

The opening apprentices include Bebe Renzaho, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before she arrived in the Seattle area, where she now lives with her husband and three kids, she lived in refugee camps in Malawi and Uganda. She speaks seven languages, so it seems fitting that she particularly enjoys the customer service part of the food industry, along with cooking. Iryna Mykhalchuk, of the Ukraine worked as a baker in her home country—as well as having a degree in ecology and natural resources—and hopes to put her baking experience to use here in the Seattle area. The third apprentice is Tenaye Adam, who lives here with her husband—but whose daughters and grandchildren still live in Ethiopia. She’s particularly passionate about cooking healthy food—which much of what Ubuntu serves is—and enjoys making injera (Ethiopian flatbread) for her community.

In the Ukrainian borscht ($5)—beets and cabbage in beef broth—on the small plates menu and the Ethiopian injera and beef roll ($8) on the big plates menu, the influence of the current apprentices is obvious. But there are also hints of Project Feast participants in the past, from other places, in the Burmese chicken curry ($9) and tres leches cupcakes ($3).

The goal of Project Feast, a non-profit, is to empower refugee and immigrant cooks through teaching them what they need to know to work in the food industry. The free culinary apprenticeship is a four-month program, accredited through Highline College, and the café is in partnership with the Food Innovation Network and supported by the Port of Seattle and the City of Kent. If you can’t make it to the limited hours of the café, you can book catering, check out community events like Migrating Meals and Potluck for Peace, or simply make a donation via their website.

Ubuntu Street Café: Weds-Fri, 11am-2pm, 202 W. Gowe St., Kent