Binghampton’s Diverse Culture On Display at Kaleidoscope Festival

by Lance Wiedower – The Daily News

With nearly 20 nationalities calling Binghampton home, the neighborhood possibly is the most culturally diverse in Memphis.

Ibtisam Salih, a refugee from Sudan, runs Ibti’s Soup & Catering and will participate in the Kaleidoscope Food Festival in Binghampton.

That diversity will be celebrated Saturday, April 15, at Wiseacre Brewing Co. with Kaleidoscope, a multicultural food festival that will present a variety of food entrepreneurs serving up unique goodness from their homes. The food festival is the culmination of work over the past year to support refugee and immigrant food entrepreneurs in the Binghampton community.

“This is to celebrate the entrepreneurs for who they are and the talents they have,” said Natasha Main, a design research associate and point person for the festival with Little Bird Innovation, which is putting on the event in conjunction with the Binghampton Development Corp. “We want to celebrate them as part of the neighborhood.”

The work to support refugees is thanks to a planning grant from The Kresge Foundation for its Fresh, Local & Equitable (FreshLo) initiative. The Binghampton Development Corp., with support from Little Bird Innovation, responded to an open call for grant applications. Memphis was one of more than 500 applicants and one of 26 chosen last spring. The grant covers projects that combine food, culture, art and place-making.

“This is a low-risk, low-cost entry point into the marketplace for new and aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Olivia Haslop, design strategist and FreshLo project lead with Little Bird Innovation. “This also is a celebration of diversity of the neighborhood with at least 17 nations. A lot of people in the neighborhood and the city don’t know that.”

The event will feature seven food entrepreneurs who are from or reside in Binghampton. Barry Lichterman’s Mobile Merchant food truck business will donate trucks for use by the entrepreneurs, who will set up six food stations around the Wiseacre grounds. The brewery will have beer pairing suggestions for all the food items, and there will be a variety of other activities and multicultural vendors.

The event is free to attend. Attendees will buy $2 tickets for currency to buy food from the various vendors.

Participants Include:

  • Indra Sunuwar, who lived as a refugee in Nepal for 16 years with her Bhutanese family and has been in Memphis since 2009. She will prepare traditional Nepali dumplings.
  • Ibtisam Salih, who escaped Sudan and resettled in Memphis in 1999 with her family. She is known for her popular soups she formerly prepared while running the Caritas Village kitchen. She runs Ibti’s Soup & Catering that offers a wide range of food, but she’ll focus on traditional Sudanese soups at Kaleidoscope.
  • Flora Elisa and CC Deng dream of creating their own catering business. Elisa is from Sudan and spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya before resettling in Memphis. Deng grew up in Kenya and moved to the U.S. with her diplomat father. She now works as a microbiologist, but also wants to create a catering business with her friend.
  • Dewayne “D.J.” Johnson grew up in Binghampton and today is known for his Summer Avenue business, D.J.’s Custom Welding & Design where he creates barbecue grills among other items. He also operates D.J.’s Food Truck there that offers a variety of smoked meats and tamales.
  • Raffe Sakan is from Syria. She moved to Memphis after visiting her brothers who were studying here in 1990. She formerly ran Raffe’s Deli on Poplar Avenue, but today sells her Mediterranean cuisine at markets. She envisions opening a restaurant that would feature falafel and other traditional Syrian foods, possibly in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
  • Latonya Hunt is from the Binghampton community where she works as the community garden coordinator at Carpenter Art Garden. She one day wants to operate a food truck that focuses on healthier versions of soul food classics.

After spending the first 16 years of her life in a refugee camp, coming to Memphis to finish high school was a culture shock for Sunuwar. Now 21, she wants to bring some of her family’s Bhutanese culture to Memphis with a restaurant she hopes can also provide quality employment for her family.

“I want people to know about our culture and our foods,” she said. “I have a dream of getting our own restaurant. Part of the dream is to support the family.”

Over the past several months, Little Bird and the Binghampton Development Corp. have gotten to know various food entrepreneurs who work in and around the neighborhood to better understand the specific needs among those who want to start a food business.

Little Bird’s team conducted research to better understand Binghampton and the refugee experience in Memphis. Organizations interviewed included the Broad Avenue Arts District, Caritas Village, Centro Cultural, Community Lift, Refugee Empowerment Program and World Relief Memphis.

That research led to the Caritas on Broad food pop-up event held at the Broad Avenue Art Walk in early November. It featured several aspiring food entrepreneurs from Binghampton’s refugee community. Some already had business plans of a sort in place; others were just testing out what was possible.

Many of those entrepreneurs will participate in the Kaleidoscope festival.

“The FreshLo grant is looking at how we can use food to foster economic vitality and cultural expressions in neighborhoods,” Haslop said. “Memphis is big on festivals. When we did the food pop-up on Broad a couple of things happened. There was huge demand so it gave us confidence. This is a food pop-up on steroids. They now have something concrete to work toward and it has spurred a lot of the prototypes that relate to a big festival, but also understanding how you can grow it into a business.”