7 Apr 2022
This week: The culturally rich (and delicious) roots of your favourite small businesses.
MIND THE MOSAIC
One thing that is objectively great about living in the year 2022? The diversity of cultural influences you can find in any given metropolitan city. We live in a time when you can find unbeatable sushi in Medellin, delectable Jamaican patties in Brooklyn, and the Peruvian ceviche of your dreams in Lisbon.
• Today, nearly 10% of UK residents are of a different nationality, according to parliament’s migration statistics. In the US, that number is closer to 14%, with immigrants hailing from just about every country in the world, the Pew Research Center reports. As immigration has trended upward over the last 25 years, small businesses from cuisine to clothing have been enjoying a renewed era of cultural exchange. Who is overrepresented among these entrepreneurs? You guessed it: immigrants. A Forbes report found that over half of the UK’s fastest growing businesses have a foreign-born founder in 2019, despite accounting for a minority of the UK population. The economic impact can be felt from Downing Street to the high street.
• Some of the buzziest businesses that have launched with Appear Here since our start have been friends from far-flung places. Case in point: Hermanos, the Colombian coffee roasting company run by brothers Victor and Santiago Gamboa, who draw on native Colombian roasting practices to redesign the coffee-drinker/producer relationship. Last December, the Gamboa brothers partnered with the Colombian embassy in the UK to showcase Colombian culture at their shops with documentary programming and a damn good cup of coffee.
• Another field trip for your tastebuds: Ong Ong Buns in Bethnal Green. The artisanal Chinese bakery and dim sum cafe was originally launched by a husband and wife team, Aaron and Icy Mo, who hail from China and Malaysia respectively. Aaron’s mother, Yuk Ying, later joined the team, bringing her expertise in baking classic Hong Kong style buns to the London shop. Ong Ong aims to be the first Asian bakery in London markets outside of Chinatown, using locally sourced ingredients to bring the Chinese style Hokkaido buns to a broader market. “I always bought baked goods in Chinatown growing up with my family, as a treat for myself, and it’s the kind of grab-and-go baked goods that Britain seems to love,” Aaron Mo told Eater London. Ong Ong Buns continues to grow; they just opened their second shop in Covent Garden.
There are many things to lament about modern life — but being able to enjoy some heavenly dim sum dumplings and a crisp cup of Colombian coffee no further than a bus ride apart?
That’s a contemporary convenience we’ll never take for granted.
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR
It must be said: if you love immigrant cuisine or culture, you better show some love to the people behind making that culture, too. Ever since the evil twins of Trumpism and Brexit arrived and ruined the party for everyone (to say nothing of Marine Le Pen), the need for neighbourly conduct is not just a nice-to-have, it’s non-negotiable.
• The pandemic basically brought immigration to a standstill in 2020, Al Jazeera found, but the number of refugees forced to flee their homes rose to record highs during 2021, according to the UN. Conflicts in Darfur, Syria, Afghanistan, and more recently Ukraine, have pushed thousands of people from their home countries in search of safety and hope for a better future. Meanwhile, businesses in the UK and US have been reeling from labour shortages worsened by a drop in immigration. Since 2020, the US has lost nearly 2 million immigrants, where employers are dealing with an endless headache when it comes to hiring talent. “This dramatic drop in foreign labor-supply growth is likely a contributor to the current job shortages and could slow down employment recovery,” writes economics professor Giovanni Peri for Market Watch. In the UK, the food industry is buckling under pressure.
• Ethnically concentrated micro-economies are shaping the future of the British high street, found Suzanne Hall, an associate professor of sociology at London School of Economics. In a 2014 study of the value of diverse high streets in the UK, Hall explains, “These streets exhibit economic and cultural vibrancy despite being located within areas with high indices of deprivation.” But urban planners and politicians have been slow to understand why that matters… to which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said, let me help you with that, and commissioned a group of academics to lead the Super-Diverse Streets research project on how ethnically-diverse migrants and high streets interact.
• Perhaps more than ever before, multiculturalism is mainstream. There is no better example of this than 2020’s Space for Ideas winner, menswear designer Nicholas Daley, who opened a shop with Appear Here in the heart of Soho on Greek Street this year. Daley draws inspiration from his Scottish-Jamaican background to reimagine what British heritage looks like in his designs. “British identity and multiculturalism, it’s something which I constantly explore, and hopefully within this space it shows you all those references and different nuances,” Daley explained at his shop’s launch in February. “There’s this idea of ancestry and lineage which I’m really interested in within my work.”
Put simply, we’re made better by diverse perspectives and cross-cultural exchange. And lucky for us, the small biz community is more culturally varied and vibrant than most.
So this week, we’re taking a page from the iconic Fred Rogers’ playbook and asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.