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Reem Assil

Emerson Collective Fellowship

Equipping food-service workers with the tools they need to make meaningful, systemic change in the restaurant industry and beyond.

Reem Assil is a baker and chef, and the founder of Reem’s California, a nationally acclaimed Arab bakery inspired by the vibrant street-corner bakeries of the Levant, where she is from. Her culinary achievements have garnered numerous awards and accolades, and she was named 2019 StarChefs Rising Star Restauranteur, James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef: West, Thrillist’s 2019 Chef of the Year, and San Francisco Magazine’s 2018 Chef of the Year.

Before founding Reem’s, Assil spent more than a decade working as a labor and community organizer, leading campaigns for workers’ rights, living wages, and access to affordable housing, and training other community organizers across the country to do the same.

As a restaurant owner, Assil has been determined to build a business centered on ethical practices that promote equity in an industry riddled with systemic injustice. But even though she was able to achieve a profitable model by hiring locally, offering a living wage, and providing pathways to leadership for workers, Assil realized that her food business needed a new model to sustain longer-term change.

At a moment when the culinary industry, upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, is forced to reimagine its traditional business model, Assil is working as an Emerson Collective Fellow to incubate a scalable apprenticeship program that offers pathways to ownership and self-governance for her workers. The program, Sumoud (which means “steadfast resilience” in Arabic), will provide workshops, training, and leadership development to cultivate restaurant workers—the majority of whom are immigrants, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and women—as change makers in the very systems impacting their lives. Sumoud aims to provide a successful, replicable model for employee ownership, and serve as a first step toward building a more stable, equitable food system.

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