In 2019, Philadelphia was home to nearly 50,000 immigrant-owned businesses employing 150,000 people inside city limits alone, Inc.com reported.
Cindy Ngo and Asmah Mahboubi, two first-generation Americans, are the co-founders of Eat Up The Borders, a nonprofit that partners with local immigrant-owned businesses to help them navigate the city’s restaurant scene by providing branding services to owners who are having difficulty overcoming language or cultural barriers.
Ngo, a 2017 communications alumna and whose parents are from Guatemala and Vietnam, watched her parents face difficulties owning a pizzeria, but ultimately having to sell it.
“The difficulties that they faced mostly had to do with marketing, but it was also a lack of familiarity,” Ngo said.
Shortly after graduating from Temple, Ngo met Mahboubi, a 2019 human resource management alumna, through the Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Network at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, a nonprofit organization that promotes inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.
Mahboubi was interested in building relationships with language, while Ngo was interested in doing the same through food, Ngo said.
“When we were coming up with a business plan, I was like, ‘Lots of people are afraid of the language barrier,’” Mahboubi said. “So I wanted to find a way to bring diverse cultures together using the English language.”
Eat Up The Borders helps businesses with marketing, event planning and community outreach. Their clients are primarily restaurant owners, like recent partners Café Tinto, a Colombian restaurant on Wyoming Avenue near A Street, and Apricot Stone, a Mediterranean restaurant on American near George Street.
Apricot Stone is the new version of co-owner Ara Ishkhanian’s family’s restaurant they had opened in 1991, after relocating to the United States from Aleppo, Syria, and later living in Toronto, Canada.
“No matter where you’re from, your accent, your language, your culture, the customers need to see you and hear you,” said Ishkhanian, a 2008 business management alumnus and co-owner of Apricot Stone.
Shortly after Ishkhanian re-opened the restaurant in 2016 as Apricot Stone, Eat Up The Borders helped them host events like multilingual cooking lessons.
“Being descendants of immigrants, wherever they came from, there’s a kind of connection,” Ishkhanian said.
Eat Up The Borders hopes to organize large, block-party style events in the coming months to foster more community between new entrepreneurs and nearby residents, Ngo said.
Mahboubi’s parents immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan, bringing with them a culture that was hard for her to embrace when she was younger, she said.
This turned into an appreciation for the work her and Ngo do, Mahboubi said.
“We both have the same origin story, the American dream,” Ngo said. “Her family came here to start a business, my family came here to start a business, and they both failed. We don’t want that happening to other immigrants.”