As Roy Choi explores in the second season of "Broken Bread," the restaurant industry's shortcomings in ethical labor, wage and business practices have never been more extreme. Restaurants have historically relied on the labor of people who are already systemically disadvantaged — BIPOC, immigrant, low-income — and are underpaid, overworked and churning on to meet incessant demand in the wake of a global pandemic. As Wolfgang Puck explains one of the episodes, skyrocketing costs of living against stagnant wages, a culture that normalizes "disposability" of workers and devaluation of goods and labor on various levels of the food production chain, are just some of the factors that contribute to the issues of the food industry today.
And still, the restaurant industry can be a major agent of change and set precedents among industries. Food is one of the greatest connectors of people, preservers of culture and sources of hope in feeding communities. In Los Angeles, some restaurateurs are stepping up to bring their visions of care and ethical practices to life. From transforming a humble storefront into a wide-reaching food bank, to setting up a food distribution system for undocumented workers or simply promising quality food and fair wages to their employees, here are some organizations and restaurants that are doing the work to change the status quo.
No Us Without You LA
No Us Without You LA was established during the COVID-19 pandemic to take care of those often overlooked: undocumented, back-of-house restaurant workers and their families. Started by two restaurateurs who identified this need early on to support and uplift those most affected by the system, they set up food distribution programs for undocumented workers, distributing almost 120,000 pounds of food a week, taking caution and changing locations to protect those most vulnerable in their industry.
Bé Ù is a queer, BIPOC, immigrant-run Vietnamese no-frills restaurant that serves up tasty, affordable meals and prides itself on ethical practices. Owner Uyên Lê previously worked at UCLA's Labor Center and addresses problems she witnessed in worker's rights issues and combats them within her own restaurant. Meals like bánh mì sandwiches cost just under $8 and caramelized pork and eggs over rice will cost you under $11; the prices reflect Bé Ù's commitment to the community it exists in and serves.
Revolutionario North African Tacos
This small, North African taco shop turned into a truly revolutionary food bank in the wake of COVID-19, when the owners decided to start a mutual aid fund and collect food donations to distribute to Asian American organizations and communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Their movement expanded to hot meals for people living on Skid Row, lunches for black seniors in South Central, and more. Now, Revolutionario North African Tacos is preparing to open at a new location in East Koreatown, but it appears that catering is still available.
Homegirl Café is an icon in Los Angeles, famous for its delicious food, but also its mission to provide a safe space for the system-impacted women — victims of domestic violence, single parents, gang-involved women and formerly-incarcerated women — who work there. Grab their classic chilaquiles or a bakery treat while supporting the rehabilitative mission of Homeboy Industries.
Pueblo Cafe is a worker-owned cooperative, drawing from the principles of the Zapatista movement that center decision-making in the hands of the workers. The cafe is currently a pop-up at community events with hopes to eventually provide a space for political education and discussions about gentrification happening in South Central L.A.
Proof Bakery in Atwater Village used to follow a traditional business model, but has transitioned to a worker-run cooperative in 2021. The worker-owned model champions "an inclusive, sustainable environment for everyone who works at the bakery," creating an equitable model of ownership where all workers have a seat at the table. Enjoy your yummy croissant knowing that it came from a place of social responsibility and respect for everyone who made it possible.