Gita and Oliver Bangera moved from Mumbai, India about 25 years ago. Gita is the dean of undergraduate research at Bellevue College, but it has always been Oliver’s passion to open a restaurant.
The couple are in the process of opening Nirmal’s, a gourmet Indian restaurant in a historic building in Pioneer Square.
The couple both have advanced degrees, but Gita Bangera said that many people that open restaurants don’t have a lot of education and are not aware of what is necessary to open a restaurant in the United States.
She said that’s where Seattle’s new Restaurant Success initiative can help.
“Having something like the Restaurant Success program gives people assurance that they are doing everything that they need to do,” said Bangera, who spoke earlier this year at a press conference about the new program.
The Restaurant Success initiative offers would-be restaurateurs help navigating the legal and permit process, including offering translation services for immigrants and minority business owners. The initiative is a partnership between the state of Washington, city of Seattle, King County and the Washington Restaurant Association.
Restaurant Success includes a website with an interactive roadmap for navigating restaurant regulations and help from a restaurant advocate from Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, who will provide guidance and language translations. The program also includes reform and process improvements across city, county, and state agencies that interact with restaurant entrepreneurs, according to a press release from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s office.
Opening a restaurant is a common entry point into the economy for immigrant and minority populations, said Karin Zaugg, spokeswoman for the Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, but language barriers and confusing regulations hinders the process for many.
Immigrants to the United States also may be unfamiliar with many of the government agencies that will require a permit, said Anthony Anton, President and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association.
“For an immigrant wanting to open a restaurant … their [home countries] probably don’t have a Department of Health and the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) … and a separate department for labor that’s different from L&I and then a separate city department for labor that has three different sets of rules,” Anton told the Globalist.
“If you throw language barriers on top of confusing regulations it almost compounds itself,” he said.
The initiative’s restaurant advocate Jennifer Tam said interpretation services is an important part of the initiative. The website currently provides a resource and information guide on opening a restaurant in three languages, English, Spanish, and Chinese.
Tam hopes down the line to employ translators at each step and to include more high demand languages such as Vietnamese and North African dialects.
Kerrie Carbary, a business advisor with Pinchot University’s Community Enterprise, said that it will now be easier for people to narrow in on exactly what they need to do with the help of a guide.
“This is just one small piece of what it takes to open up a restaurant and … there are so many different pieces you must cover. This will just streamline the process a little bit,” said Carbary, who was not involved in Seattle’s program.
Anton, of the Washington Restaurant Association, agreed.
“This isn’t going to solve all their problems but hopefully it makes it just a little bit easier,” Anton said. “For a lot of people that come to the country, restaurants are their way to kind of own their piece of the American pie and the American dream.”