With the pandemic revealing the ways in which restaurants have systematically failed to prioritize the physical and mental health of their staff, an upcoming Brooklyn culinary center is using the crisis to reevaluate what the future of hospitality can look like.
Auxilio Space — a new project from a trio of forward-thinking hospitality and nightlife veterans — will be an intersectional community-focused food space with the mission of providing resources and meals for New York City’s queer, Black, trans and/or Indigenous communities of color. It’ll include a test kitchen, front-facing bakery and prepared foods cafe, and a co-op CSA model that allows customers on WIC/SNAP to access high-quality fresh produce. The name Auxilio means to offer help in Spanish, a nod to co-founder Zacarías González’s Cuban heritage.
González, a former art director-turned-hospitality worker who most recently was at the new-wave Mediterranean restaurant Petra in Bushwick, had already been yearning for a more community-oriented kitchen space prior the pandemic that allows a new generation of “queer chefs to get their foot in the door,” he says. González is working alongside Kia Damon, formerly the executive chef at Lalito and culinary director at Cherry Bombe, and Mohammed Fayaz, an illustrator and one of the organizers of Papi Juice, an instrumental artist collective celebrating queer and trans people of color in NYC’s nightlife scene that has overlapped with the culinary world on several past events.
The center will also be a place for emerging chefs to host pop-ups and benefit from in-house culinary residencies. Damon will lead mentorship programs out of Auxilio as well as use the space to house her Kia Feeds the People Program, a new mutual-aid meal initiative. Fayaz will handle community outreach and social media, while González’s work will be more focused around development.
Originally, the center was set to open in Downtown Brooklyn, next door to Dépanneur Wines at 294 Livingston Street, between Bond and Nevins Street, where González is currently a buyer. However, in recent weeks, the Auxilio team has shifted to trying to open in an area where the need for more equitable access to food is more urgent and where a queer-led food community is already beginning to gain force, such as Bed-Stuy, where the team has more ties. The target opening date for the project is December.
Though it is clear that Auxilio Space is ambitious and lofty in its multi-pronged approach to creating more access and equity for those who have been left out of positions of power in hospitality, the pandemic has only revealed the dire urgency to all issues it is attempting to chew off. With restaurant jobs remaining scarce, more workers than ever are being pushed to seek out food pantries. The recent Black Lives Matter protests have also galvanized a push to end the general toxicity and “yes, chef” mentality that has allowed racist, homophobic, transphobic, and sexist behavior to pervade the city’s kitchens.
“Prioritizing mental and physical wellness is one of our founding principles,” González says. “That’s why, in part, our fundraising goals — we’re looking to raise half a million — are fairly large and aspirational. We want to create a workplace environment that offers really great healthcare options, even dental insurance, that doesn’t take advantage of our people.” González isn’t sure yet how many people Auxilio will eventually employ due to COVID-19 operating restrictions.
The team is currently seeking donations, which can be made via Venmo, with information on their website.