Mera Kitchen Collective is getting its own space.
After years of working out of other restaurants’ kitchens, the innovative catering company and nonprofit will open its first full-time restaurant in November at 1301 N. Calvert St. in Midtown-Belvedere.
The space at the corner of Preston was formerly Stang of Siam and later DEE@Thai.
“We’re super excited,” said Emily Lerman, a former aid worker who cofounded the group four years ago with Aishah AlFadhalah and Iman Alshehab. Today, they sell everything from Syrian-style shawarma to gourmet doughnuts at pop-ups, catered events and the Baltimore Farmers Market and Bazaar.
Through its nonprofit wing, the MK Foundation, Mera Kitchen Collective has prepared more than 150,000 free meals for community members since the start of the pandemic. The group also partnered with Venezuelan restaurant Alma Cocina Latina to cook meals funded by World Central Kitchen’s Restaurants for the People program.
More recently, Mera Kitchen Collective had been sharing a space in Station North with Alma Cocina Latina. But with increasing catering orders, Mera outgrew that kitchen, Lerman said.
“This was kind of the natural progression,” said Lerman. Before Alma, the group prepared food from the Lord Baltimore Hotel and later Neopol production facility in Hollins Market.
At its new location, the group’s founders hope to create a “community space” that offers both dine-in and takeout that, Lerman said, takes guests “on a culinary journey around the world.” They are also applying for a liquor license.
In an email to customers, the group called the new space “a vehicle to share our cultures; the aroma of cardamom in a rice dish, the tangy spices of salsa verde, fruity, tropical baked goods, and the refreshing gingery mint juices of Burkina Faso.”
To start, the restaurant will serve lunch only, with dinner to come later. Eventually, they plan to host community events and possibly weekend brunch. “We want to fine tune our model and kind of phase into this,” said Lerman, noting that they will continue to cook catering meals — which currently form the largest share of revenue.
The group is also building out an additional space on North Avenue that should open within the next two years. “I wish I could say less,” but with COVID-19 delays, things could take longer. “We know that’s going to take some time,” she said.
They launched a gofundme campaign to help pay staff salaries during the eight-week transition to the new space. Their fundraising goal is $35,000.
Lerman has long been concerned with creating a more sustainable model for restaurants. Mera aims, she says, to eventually pay all staff $20 per hour and offer profit-sharing to workers. She also hopes to offer food at a price that’s accessible to all Baltimoreans. But it’s a tough balance at a time when the group, like other restaurateurs in the city, are feeling the pinch from higher prices.
“The price of food, the price of packaging is ridiculous,” she said. “Takeout boxes have doubled — if you can find them.”