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Sips: Thinking Globally – Memphis Magazine

By meerna Jul10,2024
Sips: Thinking Globally – Memphis Magazine

While training for the 2012 Boston Marathon in his hometown of Ventura, California, Juan Viramontes ran for his future.

“I started talking to Sabine (Langer) during a long run—22 miles at conversational pace,” Viramontes says. “She was in Ventura, also training for Boston, and she joined my group for the run. We stayed friends on social media, and then in 2017 she called and asked if I wanted to be a part of a project she had in mind and if I would be interested in moving to Memphis.”

Inspired by her own immigration experience, Langer founded the Global Café Project, a business dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees in Memphis by investing their earnings in its employees—paying them a living wage, offering English lessons, free shoes, a share of profits, and helping them adjust to life in the U.S.

Viramontes was intrigued enough to move here in early 2018. He got to work creating the menu, developing recipes and coming up with cocktail ideas. (More on that soon.)

“My family moved from Mexico to Ventura when I was 10,” Viramontes says. “We were in the heart of rural California, and I had been working in the restaurant industry since I was 14. My first real job was washing dishes at a Mexican restaurant. Since then, I’ve worked as a busboy, a buffet boy, a cook, a bartender, a chef, and a restaurant manager.

He slides it across the bar toward me and it’s… it’s… huge. Luckily there’s a straw. Otherwise I don’t know how I’d get to the drink itself. I take a sip and boom! It’s really good. But it’s a drink with a kick.

“Sabine is also an immigrant, like me, and the restaurant is her vision,” she continues. “We empower immigrants and refugees to overcome the divide and become part of the culture and society. We’ve had employees from Guatemala, Burundi, Ukraine, Pakistan, Nepal, Sudan, Syria, Mexico, Venezuela… more than 20 countries.”

Global Café, located in the Crosstown Concourse, offers a diverse international menu that includes dishes from Venezuela, Somalia, Colombia, Sudan, Mexico and the Middle East—from street tacos to African peanut soup. Viramontes’ cocktails are equally international, including the “Syrian Sangria,” the “Sudanese Sundance” and the “Mexican Mule,” to name just three.

“Because of my agricultural background, I can work with almost any type of food,” he says. “I focus on fresh fruit in our smoothies. If peaches are in season, I make a drink I call ‘Peaches and Cream.’ Watermelon? I make a ‘Watermelon Pucker.’ Our ‘Kiwi Lime Drop’ is also very popular.”

So far, Viramontes hasn’t mentioned the most important topic: his famous “Mangorita,” the most Instagrammable drink in Memphis — and probably the biggest — so I ask him about it.

“We sell a ton of them,” he says with a smile. “It’s our most famous drink. I take a mango, cut it into a flower shape and stick it in a glass filled with 20 ounces of Juan’s Famous Margarita. I buy the biggest mangoes they sell and ripen them myself. That’s why they’re so creamy and buttery, without any tough strings. After I cut them, I drizzle them with freshly squeezed lime juice, fresh orange juice, tajin (a spice blend) and Cholula hot sauce. For this drink, you have to get down and dirty.”

After this introduction, I have to try one more. (And, reader, let me add that this interview took place before lunch. On Tuesday.) Watching Viramontes put this masterpiece together is a bit like watching Picasso at his canvas.

“How much alcohol is there in here, Juan?”

“Three and a half ounces of tequila.”

“Oh my.”

“You should savor it,” he advises. “Take a bite. Take a sip. Take your time.”

“It’s 11:14 in the morning. I guess I’ll just have to drink a sample, if that’s okay.”

“Don’t worry,” Viramontes says. “Some people come in and order it for dinner,” he adds helpfully. “They use a knife and fork.”

I make a note to go back and try some of the intriguing-sounding dishes on the menu. And bring a group to help me tackle Mangorita. I think we’ll need two straws and an Uber. And it’ll be worth it. Do yourself a favor and put Global Café on your list of restaurants if you’re not already a patron. It’s a chance to eat well, drink well, and do something good for your community. Tell Juan I sent you.

Global Café is located in the Crosstown Concourse,1350 Concourse Ave., Room 157.

By meerna

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