Article by Pat Fisher, Social Media and Communications Manager, lloyd Products Inc.
Lead image: Thang. Photo Courtesy lloyd Products Inc.  

In a few years we’ll look back at this period in Buffalo’s history as a Renaissance in all aspects of the word. In a city that has experienced plenty of hardships (Go Bills), things are starting to turn around. One of the contributing factors to our city’s turnaround is the influx of thousands of new immigrants who now call Buffalo home. There is opportunity here, and plenty of it.

The International Institute of Buffalo (IIB) has been a driving force in assisting the influx of immigrants and refugees coming into the city on a daily basis and making their transition as smooth as possible.

The results of their efforts? Vacant shops opening up, empty homes being rented and unique neighborhoods springing up, adding to the diversity of our community. The West Side is benefitting most directly and it’s obvious when you walk down the streets.

The West Side Bazaar on Grant Street has become an incubator for small business owners of all ethnicities to promote their products. On any given day you’ll find diverse offerings of food, jewelry, art, clothing, cosmetics and more from all over the world.

In a city known nationwide for its food selection, refugees add to that by introducing dishes from their homeland. Where else can you get chicken wings and pickled prawn salad within a mile of each other?

The wide variety of food available within the city limits is astounding, and yet we still know so little about our neighbors. Diversity means change, and change is good, especially for a city seemingly stuck in the 20th century until recently. We have a unique opportunity here and it’s time to reap the rewards.

At lloyd Taco Trucks, we have been fortunate enough to hire over 25 refugees through the IIB from all over the world, primarily from Burma. It is thanks in large part to this partnership that we’ve been able to expand at such a rapid rate over the years. The restaurant business is one that requires non-stop work; there’s rarely any down time. Therein lies the beauty of partnering with resettlement agencies like the IIB: they’ve introduced to us immigrants hungry to achieve a better way of life.

Over 90% of our kitchen workers are immigrants whose second, third, or even fourth language is English. You’d think the language barrier would take some time to overcome, but it’s become a non issue. We’ve successfully trained a few of these employees to work on the trucks with us as “grinders”: responsible for assembling the food before receiving the finishing touches and being sent to the customer.

One of our longest tenured IIB employees, Liwam, sends money back to her family each month. She is the only member of her family living in Buffalo, seeing them rarely in the past few years. As a 28-year-old, she provides for her family in a way that was never possible in Ethiopia. Add a full school schedule into the mix and she is one of the hardest working people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Lu Ka. Photo Courtest lloyd Products Inc.

We consider ourselves the “melting pot” in America, yet find so much intolerance on the news each day, full of close minded individuals stuck in the past. Everyone deserves a chance to get the most out of what makes them great. Hiring refugees opens your eyes to what life is like in the rest of the world and just how good we have it here. Our refugee employees have given us great pride and joy as we train them and get to know them, and we are extremely humbled to be a part of their story of resettlement in Buffalo.

Why wouldn’t you hire refugees? Experience isn’t an issue. We’ve seen employees turn zero previous kitchen experience into pros being able to dice 30 lbs of onions an hour! That speed and work ethic is essential to our business. On World Refugee Day, one of our longest tenured IIB exchange employees, Luke, created a ginger chicken taco served on a bed of cabbage and topped with scallions. We sold this the entire day as proceeds were given to the IIB. Our customers loved the product and got a kick out of supporting tacos for a great cause.

Over a period of about two years, refugee hire Kul worked his way up from prep cook to quarterback: responsible to lead a truck’s operations, interact with customers and ensure food quality. Another hire, Saw Zaw was also once a prep cook and is now a prep master, overseeing daily kitchen operations. He also has a hand in tortilla making on a daily basis. They’re each members of our team, and have advanced at the same rates as any of our other hires. Their work ethic is a shining example we point to often.

Take a chance on this community and empower us all as a whole. You’re not just employing a man or woman. They will make your business stronger. You’re empowering them, giving them an important position in your company, and providing a path to a stable future. In doing so, you also provide hope for our entire community.