In announcing that the Conflict Kitchen takeout restaurant in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza will close after May 31, the people behind it cited not an ending, but “a new phase in the life of the project.”
While they won’t be serving from that kiosk rotating menus of foods from peoples and countries in conflict with the United States, they look to still start conversations and perhaps arguments as they continue a mission of serving up diverse food for thought.
Founder Jon Rubin and his co-director, Dawn Weleski, both said Friday that they had no additional comment on Thursday night’s closing announcement. The project started seven years ago and caught national and international attention for how they research each featured country and cuisine and incorporate interviews and other information into the food’s packaging.
Scott Roller, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy that operates Schenley Plaza, said that while his group will miss Conflict Kitchen, it’s happy to announce that it will partner with Conflict Kitchen’s head chef Robert Sayre in a new restaurant in that kiosk called Mesa that will feature New Mexican food — a “vibrant mixture between Spanish, Native American, Mexican and cowboy chuckwagon style cuisine” when it opens in June.
He noted, “Conflict Kitchen has been a wonderful partner with the Parks Conservancy, and we will miss both their creative food and the lively dialogue they brought to Schenley Plaza. They and all who have eaten at Conflict Kitchen have proven again and again a tenet the Parks Conservancy holds dear — that parks are our most democratic space.”
The Thursday post on the conflictkitchen.org blog and Facebook said the project will continue to provide “a forum for critical dialogue, challenging xenophobia by supporting voices less heard and cultures less considered in the United States. We develop spaces for empathy and action that build a greater sense of curiosity and understanding in American life. ...
The post continued: “Conflict Kitchen will continue to expand our educational initiatives throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region with the production of curriculum, performances, public events and publications with cultural institutions, community organizations and schools.” It added that “we are seeking new partnerships and support to develop a more impactful and sustainable model. We see this transition as an opportunity, a chance to extend the reach of Conflict Kitchen both locally and nationally.”
The restaurant, open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, gained a passionately loyal local following for its cheap eats, the menus of which changed every few months. This past Sunday was the last day for a winter menu of fare of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy, a league of six indigenous nations centered in upstate New York. Related programming included a weeklong project with middle-schoolers at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square in January.
On Monday, the restaurant reopened as a Palestinan place, serving hummus, falafel and other favorite Middle Eastern dishes that it served during its most popular and most controversial run in fall of 2014, when it closed for several days due to death threats.
Some groups and individuals had criticized the project for the Palestinian viewpoints on food wrappers and posters that they said ignored or disparaged Israeli perspectives. Others supported the project, including more than 200 people who showed up at an event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Conflict Kitchen grew out of another of Mr. Rubin’s and later Ms. Weleski’s food-for-thought projects, Waffle Shop, which opened in 2008 in East Liberty and was meant to be a two-semester art class project. It was a waffle restaurant that also was a live talk show starring its customers.
Conflict Kitchen opened as a takeout window there in 2010 and opened as a standalone on Schenley Plaza on March 27, 2013. It was supported mostly by customers as well as some foundation money and also had support from the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, where Mr. Rubin works. Thursday’s announcement noted that CMU “will no longer provide administrative support for the restaurant, though it will continue to maintain administrative assistance for our creative and programmatic activities.”
CMU spokesman Kenneth Walters said in an email, “We have nothing to add beyond what is posted on Facebook.”
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.