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Culture at Crosstown: Global Café speaks to Memphis through the language of food

By Anna Caroline Barker
Journalism student

Crosstown Concourse, near Cleveland Street in Memphis, is a hub for just about everyone. Whether you’re an art fanatic, a foodie or a music lover, there’s a place for you.

This ginormous building, described by developer Todd Richardson as a “vertical community,” is filled with restaurants, art galleries, places to study, WYXR radio station, a health center and even apartments, along with much more.

Kayla White is a 21-year-old student at Ole Miss who enjoys visiting Crosstown Concourse when she’s home.

“It was really cool to see what [Crosstown Concourse] turned into and how much it was benefitting the community,” White said. “There really is something for everyone there. It’s such a great idea that became a reality.”

Three refugees — Chef Fayha Sakkan from Syria, Chef Ibti Salih Sakellariou from Sudan and Chef Maria from Venezuela  — have created a diverse menu with a wide variety of eclectic dishes from their native countries. 

Restaurant manager, chef and bartender Juan Viramontes posing in front of Global Café’s outdoor seating area, the only area open for dining right now. Photo via Instagram: @globalcafeinmemphis

The restaurant breaks the barriers of the typical café. The mouth-watering aroma of spices immediately hits when walking through the door. On display is a large menu with a wide variety of food and drinks such as tabouleh, empanadas, and baklava. The outdoor dining area is a long hallway with safely spaced out tables and chairs with a view of the neighborhood.

“The main vision of this business is to bridge the gap with the community and communicate with them. The goal is to bring them together through the universal language of food,” Viramontes said, “Our mission is also to help refugees and immigrants incorporate themselves into the community.”

Every dish Global Café serves is made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Many of their recipes are family recipes passed down from older generations.

“The way we make our food from scratch and where our recipes come from, I think that’s what makes us stand out,” Viramontes said.

Juan Viramontes prepares a “Mango-rita” at Global Café. Photo provided.

Aside from a diverse food menu, Global Café also has a bar offering a variety of signature cocktails including several that represent each chef’s country. For example, a popular cocktail they serve is the “Venezuela de Noche,” which contains high-end rum from Venezuela mixed with hand-squeezed lemonade and traditional Venezuelan sugar cane hand-made by Chef Maria herself. It’s then topped off with fresh lime and bitters originated from Angostura, a city in Venezuela.

“Mango-rita” is another popular drink served at Global Café’s full bar. This drink is a margarita topped with a whole mango carved into a flower seasoned with lime and tajin, a Mexican fruit seasoning. It is then topped off with Cholula hot sauce. According to Viramontes, he makes roughly 60 to 70 Mango-ritas per day.

An example of a “Mango-rita” ready to serve at Global Café. Photo provided.

When COVID-19 first hit, Global Café created their online store as well as starting a delivery service. They recently opened their patio for dining, but their indoor dining room still remains closed until further notice.

“We’re lucky to have gotten the response we did throughout the community. People have totally rallied behind us and come to support us,” Viramontes said, “Not just regulars, but lots of new faces too. We have one customer who gets a delivery order every single day of the week, and we have another lady who donates money every single day of the week.”

Making sure the customer leaves the restaurant not just full but educated is what the employees of Global Café strive for.

“It used to be that you order your meals directly through the chef. The idea was that there was direct interaction and that you share a moment with the chef,” Viramontes said, “After COVID-19 hit we had to put a stop to it. Now customers just order through the register.”

Since COVID-19 hit, Global Café has been serving free meals to medical workers paid for by donations from friends and family.

UM alum Taylor Harbour was thrilled to discover Global Café after moving to Memphis last year.

“I was so impressed when I tried Global Café for the first time,” Harbour said.  “There’s something about the story or history behind a food that just makes it taste better.”

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