Culture.CLE is a nonprofit organization focused on creating a community that values diversity and appreciation for the local immigrant and refugee population by promoting immigrant-owned small businesses. Culture.CLE creates spaces that allow for open conversation and opportunity to comfortably experience other cultures and communities. One of its’ approaches is to bring together groups around food – a universally important component of culture. Given that many cultures have a strong connection to food and the time spent around the table, the monthly dinner series featuring ethnic culinary businesses is a prime way to both support small businesses and educate people on other cultures.

Culture.CLE understands the value that the restaurant industry brings by offering a path to entrepreneurship and meaningful employment opportunities for many minorities. By supporting these local, minority-owned culinary businesses we are helping generate a new customer base for years to come for these small businesses. The 50+ restaurants owned and operated by Cleveland’s immigrant and refugee population assists these newer communities in thriving in Cleveland and also adds flavor to the existing community. These businesses greatly contribute to Cleveland’s reputation as a foodie town. Simultaneously, they also help enrich a sense of place for ethnic minorities by offering a slice of familiarity from their country of origin.

Central Kitchen and Culture.CLE formed a partnership to create an authentic dining experience that would offer a unique opportunity to learn about international cultures at its’ beautiful kitchen event space. The location gives participants an intimate look into a culture by allowing them to experience being in the kitchen and chatting over regional drinks with a different ethnic chef each month.

In the dinner series first event, Chef David Ina from Zaytoon Lebanese Kitchen taught guests how to prepare a number of traditional foods and what spices make the flavors unique to a Levantine cuisine. Event guests left with: a brief overview of the history of the Lebanese culture/community/ethnicity, a history of the food, a live demonstration of how to traditionally prepare the foods, unique cultural dining customs and, where to buy and dine these foods locally.

Culture.CLE’s monthly newsletter ties together the dinner series with the larger mission by promoting the chef’s small business. The newsletter includes recipes and menus from the featured chef and connects to the nonprofit’s second component, the international book club. Soon the book club will align with the dinner series and participants will have the option to immerse themselves in a culture through literature and food! Upcoming cultures include Honduran (4/30), Congolese (5/21) and Northern Indian (6/25), and a larger line-up soon to come. So why wait for a vacation, when you can experience 50+ cultures unique cuisines without ever leaving the 216?

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Written by Samantha A. Peddicord