A RESTAURANT that is staffed and run entirely by refugees has been given the opportunity to expand in the city of Coventry.
The restaurant Arabian Bites, founded by the Priest-in-Charge of St Francis of Assisi’s, in the city, the Revd Liz Jackson, opened as a pop-up restaurant in a temporary venue earlier this year, but has been so successful that it has now been offered a permanent home, and a second venue.
The restaurant grew out of the church’s existing work with refugees, where it runs sessions for the city council helping people into employment, and offers English lessons. Coventry has the second highest number of refugees of any city outside London, and many come to the city from Syria and Iraq.
Ms Jackson said that the three-month pop-up restaurant, which was initially set up to help people to learn employment skills, quickly developed a huge following.
“It really took off in people’s hearts and imaginations, and those running it wanted to keep it going. It gives them the opportunity to be good hosts, in turn, in a city which is hosting them, and it also helps those coming here to meet refugees and get to know them. Also, the guys’ food is pretty awesome.”
A permanent home was offered in a voluntary sector organisation that is helping to combat substance misuse, which is also open to the members of the public. Refugee chefs served the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visited the city recently.
Arabian Bites also takes over a well-known city restaurant once a month to serve its vegan and mezze-style fare, which allows them to reach out beyond their normal clientele.
A second venue has now been offered to allow the restaurant, which is part funded by a Jewish charity, to expand.
St Francis of Assisi’s is used by the community seven days a week, and its congregation has grown through its outreach work from an average of 19 to about 80 regulars, including several Iraqi Christians.
“It is really important that we are open seven days a week, and there is always something on. One of our key aims is building community cohesion, and we bring people together to learn together and also to eat together.
“The restaurant is a wonderful way of showing what faith communities can do, especially if they work together, and it really does transform lives,” Ms Jackson said.