South Philly culinary couple open 'El Compadre' to feed needy

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The restaurant industry has been struggling to survive this pandemic, but even in times of loss, we are seeing a tremendous amount of generosity and care coming out of those kitchens.

A celebrated culinary couple in South Philadelphia is using their space and their skills to serve the underserved.

For Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez, famous for their fare at South Philly Barbacoa, it's never been about the accolades.

You can feel their soul in their food and right now, that's exactly what's feeding hundreds of hungry neighbors at a time when they need it most.

"We can provide something nutritious that has love mixed in there too," says Miller.

You can feel that love in El Compadre's bustling kitchen. Every weekday, 215 meals are prepared and packed to feed the city's hungry.

"This project has really just given me a lot of energy, a lot of hope," Miller says.

This restaurant space has been quiet since Miller and Martinez, a James Beard-nominated chef, moved their beloved South Philly Barbacoa across the street.

Thanks to a funding partnership with World Central Kitchen and 215 People's Alliance, they aren't just serving up much-needed food, but critical resources.

"It's very exciting," Miller says. "It's the most exciting thing I've been involved with."

The partnership also keeps their lights on and their workers employed.

"It's allowed us to pay the rent in this space," Miller says. "Otherwise we probably would have lost the space."

Visiting chefs stop in to pitch in.

"They want to come and cook," Miller says. "They want to be involved, they want to help plate up. They want to help distribute the meals, they want to help work at the garden."

The community garden is in Point Breeze, where they're growing some of the food they serve.

"We just started planting some tomato plants and peppers and people have been donating seedlings," Miller says.

Miller hopes this will become a new kind of kitchen concept.

"We see restaurants that are shuttering now and restaurants that are struggling, but this is a way that they can still cook and they can still utilize their space and the people can get fed," Miller says.

While they are using South Philly Barbacoa as a pickup spot for those free meals, it's also still open to customers, along with Cristina's new spot, Casa Mexico.
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