June's HIV+ Eatery
Photo: Chris Donovan/The Canadian Press
Casey House
Photo: Casey House (Twitter)

Last November, a pop-up restaurant appeared in Toronto unlike any other. Called June’s HIV+ Eatery, the restaurant had a mission beyond bringing the community together and serving delicious food. It was an initiative to challenge the stigma, judgments and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

Only half of Canadians would knowingly share food with or eat food prepared by someone who is HIV-positive*. It’s this stat that inspired Casey House to open the world’s first pop-up restaurant run by HIV-positive chefs. Casey House partnered with Chef Matt Basile (Fidel Gastro and Lisa Marie) and named the restaurant after their founder, June Callwood. Chef Basile and his team worked with 14 HIV-positive individuals who helped develop the menu, cook and serve food. Ultimately, changing the people who visited June’s HIV+ Eatery last November.

June's HIV+ Eatery
Photo: Casey House (Twitter)

June’s HIV+ Eatery drew global attention. With over a billion people learning about it worldwide. It also became a part of Casey House’s new campaign, Break Bread Smash Stigma. The campaign initiated a new conversation about HIV/AIDS. Casey House also announced the launch of a new, state-of-the-art facility. They engaged with Academy Award-nominated director, Hubert Davis, to create a short documentary. Called June’s, the film is about the pop-up restaurant. We were invited to attend the premiere at The Eglinton Grand theatre a few weeks ago.

JUNE’S: THE DOCUMENTARY

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June’s is an incredibly moving documentary. It introduced us to June’s HIV+ Eatery, Chef Basile and the 14 incredibly brave individuals who volunteered to take part in the initiative. The pop-up restaurant and documentary gave them a voice and introduced viewers to their stories. We learned about why they participated in the pop-up and how it impacted them. Their individual stories were at times heart-breaking but also unique, inspiring and empowering. The documentary, much like we understood the restaurant to be, was magic. We left that evening touched by each of those individuals. Along with a sense that we want to take part in changing the conversation and challenging the stigma.

We leave you with this from one of the chefs, Kenneth Poon:

“The stigma around HIV/AIDS is still very real. Isolating many patients across the city, the country and the globe. I stand proud to be part of this powerful group of 14 HIV-positive chefs. To boldly break barriers and end the isolation that I have felt and other continue to feel. Through the compassionate care that I received at Casey House, I made it through.”

To find out more about the Break Bread Smash Stigma campaign, the documentary or to support Casey House, please visit their website. You can also look for the documentary as it will be premiering on HBO.

*A survery of 1,633 Canadian residents was completed online between October 10th to 13 using Leger’s online panel, Leger Web.  A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.4%, 19 times out of 20

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