South Eveleigh has been forging its name as a food precinct since it opened in late 2021, and now the arrival of Coyoacán Social will further embolden this status. The Mexican cantina is the latest venture from Plate It Forward, a social enterprise dedicated to creating equal opportunity across the table.
"We want our customers to be part of social change by having a meal," says Plate It Forward co-founder Shaun Christie-David. "That meal pays for a meal that we donate to people that are long-term unemployed or struggling to enter the job sector for reasons and barriers that we think shouldn't exist."
Plate It Forward was set up by Christie-David and Peter Jones-Best, and Coyoacán Social is its third community-minded restaurant, joining Colombo Social in Enmore and Kabul Social in Sydney's CBD.
While Colombo Social was inspired by Christie-David's Sri Lankan heritage and Kabul Social established in response to the social and political turmoil in Afghanistan, Coyoacán Social came about by chance.
"It was fate," says Christie-David. "I met Roman at a festival."
Coyoacán Social is overseen by head chef and co-owner Roman Cortes, who was working in a food truck and, in a moment of crisis, was aided by Christie-David. The pair talked and found their common connection - helping vulnerable communities through food.
According to Christie-David, Cortes talked of his lived experience of addiction and said: "It was soup that got me out of it; my mum cooking for me, sharing her recipes and us cooking together."
"His story was one of most inspirational I've ever heard, and I'm lucky enough to be around inspiring people every day," says Christie-David.
At Coyoacán Social, Cortes is ready to help with Plate It Forward's giving ethos. Food will be central to this, with Cortes bringing recipes from his family to the menu. Drawing upon his time growing up in Mexico City and his mother's birthplace of Coyoacán, the menu will explore how food fosters connection and how it helped Cortes on his own recovery journey.
Casual, colourful, flavourful eats will underpin the menu - think birria tacos, served with a rich accompanying beef dipping broth; cochinita pibil, which sees a corn tortilla topped with pickled onions and pineapple and habanero sauce; and flautas deep, where tortillas are stuffed with cheese, salsa verde and chipotle chicken then deep fried. These will be joined by salad bowls, an array of vibrant salsas and horchata (a traditional Mexican tea drink).
Like all of Plate It Forward's other venues, each meal purchased will result in meals being donated to the wider community, and they also plan to donate meals to the centre in Mexico where Cortes began his recovery.
"For all our venues, it's about giving a voice and authority to people from that culture," says Christie-David.
"People have a big connection to their home country, and the countries that we're working with now - and going forward - have some crisis that really impacts the community that lives here. To know that you're contributing in a very deep and meaningful way, with something that's tangible, is really important."
With a connection to the greater Eveleigh and Redfern areas already established in Plate It Forward donating 150,000 meals to the local communities, this forward-thinking restaurant will hopefully be a blueprint for how food precincts can incorporate socially minded businesses across Australia.
Coyoacán Social is located at Shop 8, 1 Locomotive Street, Eveleigh NSW. It is open for lunch Monday to Friday (11am-3pm) and for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays (6pm-9pm).