On a chilly and gray afternoon, I made the short walk to the 1149 Cooperative in the Italian Market, umbrella in hand. The threatening skies made the flowering trees appear even more vibrant. I knew my destination by sight on a familiar block. Located in the former home of South Philly Barbacoa, the 1149 Cooperative is a restaurant, caterer, and community gathering place.
The brightly decorated space, adorned with pieces from local artists, floral tablecloths, and fliers for community events, made me feel instantly welcomed. Over a luscious bowl of creamed greens and rice, I learned about 1149 though conversation with co-founder Jena Harris and producer-member Kenisha Sutherland, also known as Chef ThugLife. I missed catching up with Ailbhe Pascal, the other co-founder, but thankfully, I had the pleasure to try their soft and satisfying oatmeal chocolate chip cookies a few weeks prior.
Ailbhe, Jena, and Kenisha all use food as a powerful tool for connection, hospitality, and justice.
1149 began with Jena and Ailbhe. Both were in need of a larger cooking space for their respective businesses and driven by a shared vision of inclusion and advocacy. Jena previously worked with the team at South Philly Barbacoa, and when that operation was moving across the street, the Barbacoa team nudged her to think about taking over the space.
Jena has operated a catering business, Food Everyone Deserves (f.e.d.) since 2013 that aims to provide nourishing food at accessible prices for community organizations. Ailbhe had been working in a variety of kitchens since 2015 to operate Fikira Bakery, a bicycle delivery businesses that intentionally supports community activists. They both saw the new kitchen and restaurant space as an opportunity to build a cooperative of like-minded businesses.
1149 is a producer-owner coop, where the members all share a kitchen, collaborate, and support one another. Kenisha (Chef ThugLife) joined Jena and Ailbhe to expand her Delaware-based catering business and is now leading Sunday brunch on site. Fikira Bakery, f.e.d, and Chef ThugLife now all fall under the 1149 umbrella and are committed to evolving and growing together. 1149 is minority priority and provides a welcoming space in kitchens that weren’t necessarily made for people who fall outside the traditional back-of-house environment. The producer-owners and employees (all of whom start at $15 per hour) have ongoing dialogue about how their values are embodied in their business.
To start, the co-op is serving lunch to the public on weekdays (Tuesday – Friday) and Sunday brunch, getting to know its neighbors, and catering a variety of events around the city on a sliding scale. The lunch menu celebrates both seasonality and comfort, with dishes like buttered chicken, grilled cheese with caramelized onions, roasted root vegetables, and curries like the creamy greens that I savored – kale, spinach, onion, curry, coconut milk over garlic rice and garnished with date syrup and sesame seeds.
Kenisha (Chef ThugLife), a graduate of The Restaurant School, started hosting brunches at a friend’s home in Delaware after working in a variety of restaurants around the region. Kenisha never out to be an entrepreneur, but found herself growing more and more customers and relished being her own boss. She takes inspiration from her travels and has perfected dishes like blueberry cobbler french toast, chicken and waffles, and shrimp and grits.
In addition to its lunch and brunch service, it’s important to note that 1149 is more than a restaurant and kitchen space. It’s a place for the community to gather to hold events that are meaningful to them. A place where cost will not be a prohibitive factor. A place that is available to groups which may not have access to private space. Rentals start are a mere $10 per hour, for two hours. 1149 envisions the space being used for book clubs, language lessons, and all sorts of community gatherings.
Shortly after my visit to 1149, I had the good fortune to attend an event that they catered – the South Philly Food Co-op’s Groundbreaking Celebration. I eagerly accepted a plate piled-high with food that beckoned spring and relished the synergy of 1149 being so deeply aligned with the community. Be sure to stop in soon for lunch or brunch and introduce yourselves to this dazzling group of individuals working together to make South Philly a better place for everyone.
Tuesday – Friday
11 am – 3 pm
11 am – 2 pm