Jennifer Chen (‘19)
Irene Li (‘08) came to Milton Academy in the beginning of the new year at a Straus Dessert, and talked about her and her sister’s business, Mei Mei (the Chinese pinyin for ‘younger sister’) Street Kitchen and Mei Mei Restaurant found in Boston. Ms. Li is an alumni of Milton Academy, and she talked about her frustrations, as a younger self, with social justice issues. She also went to the Mountain School, attending an annual panel that discusses diversity and provides suggestions and comments to improve the way the school handles diversity. Ms. Li then went to Cornell College.
After college, she and her sister decided to open a restaurant with good and ethical Chinese American food. According to Ms. Li, she was competitive, and she wanted to beat the current food catering industry and its horrible employment practices. Ms. Li also detailed her passion for food sustainability, and her restaurant is, therefore, sustainably and locally sourced. Mei Mei is also unique in that Ms. Li and her sister open up their finances for the staff to see in what is called an “open-booked management training program” in order to provide not only a paycheck, but also sets of skills needed to manage finances or a business to employees. She's awesome. See her website here.
Irene Li operates Mei Mei Street Kitchen & Mei Mei Restaurant in Boston, leading the industry in ethical sourcing and fair employment practices. The award-winning food businesses merge modern techniques and genre-bending creativity with sustainable practices and tech-savvy communications. Mei Mei has been featured by Food & Wine, Eater Boston & National, The New York Times, Restaurant Hospitality, People, Bon Appetit, The Boston Globe, and more.
Irene’s background of living on an organic farm, organizing for economic and social justice, and working the restaurant line inform the direction of her creative, farm-driven, Chinese-American and menus. Above all, Irene believes food can and should be delicious, fun, and just. This year, Irene is leading her staff in a groundbreaking open book management training program in conjunction with Rethink Restaurants. She’s working to provide the entire team, from dishwashers to sous chefs, with crucial finance and business management skills in addition to an opportunity for profit-sharing. She is an Eater Young Gun winner and three-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef semi-finalist.