Chef and founder of Gather Kitchen, Soraya Spencer tells us how she uses her past, personal experiences growing up in North Africa to help fuel the mission of her restaurant.
Spencer at Gather Kitchen housed in Thanksgiving Tower downtown.
Philanthropy and food create a happy heart and full stomach for Soraya Spencer, founder and chef at Gather Kitchen. As a young woman, Spencer left her home in Algeria to study at the Institut Paul Bocuse in France, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in hospitality and restaurant management. Spencer has travelled extensively to learn and cook with other incredible chefs in meccas like Hong Kong and Shanghai. During her time in Hong Kong, she assisted in opening five of the top restaurants in the city.
A little over four years ago, Spencer came to Dallas and opened Gather Kitchen, a healthy and flavorful destination for grab-and-go food. Aside from creating tasteful meals, Soraya helps and hires women who are survivors of assault, trafficking and abuse. Growing up in North Africa, the traumatic experiences of her childhood have shaped her into the woman she is today, and have inspired her to speak up for the women who can’t.
Tell me more about the philanthropy tie-in at Gather Kitchen.
Yes, so we partner with Women Called Moses, a non-profit organization that helps women who have survived domestic violence (wcmcares.org). We hire women who are victims of sex trafficking and all kinds of abuse to do a one year internship with us. We help them get better jobs after they graduate, and during their time here we provide them with nutrition classes, workout classes, therapy and personal coaching.
Can you talk a little about your own experience?
I was molested and beaten as a child, but the more I can talk about it, the more I can help people and help these women. We start as a victim, but we shouldn’t remain as a victim.
How would you describe the overall mission of the restaurant?
Gather Kitchen is a stepping stone for women who are victims of trauma. We help you gain confidence, learn skills and mainly help you have wings so that you can go out and fly into a better future.
How do you find these women that you hire? Is it as difficult for them to talk about the traumas as it is for you?
Yes, it’s very hard, but we speak the same language. You recognize each other and you recognize the pain. We work with Hope (an organization that helps recovering addicts), Poetic (an organization that helps women who have been exploited and trafficked, iampoetic.org), and Simply Grace (a women’s sober living establishment, simplygracehouse.com), and we find a lot of women from there. Sometimes we have women knocking on our doors, not even knowing who I am, looking for a job. Then after a year they have a better life and a better job, and her accomplishment is mine. Her success is mine. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them have love for themselves.
What’s the most exciting thing on the menu at Gather Kitchen right now?
Our new Gather Burger, a grass-fed burger with North African Spices. I call it my grandma’s burger because it reminds me of home and tastes like home. It comes with sweet potato fries inside and it’s delicious.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
People need to come eat here! By eating here you show support to the community and these women, and you help save them by spending money and keeping the restaurant open. We want to hire more women and help as many women as we can. This job is not glamorous, but it’s full of love. We love each other here. Thanksgiving Tower, 1601 Elm St #140, gatherkitchen.com
Photography by: Alexis Bray