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Pop-up restaurant featuring HIV+ chefs a huge success

Joanne Simmons, the CEO of Casey House, says a similar pop-up may be in the works in another city

Pop-up restaurant featuring HIV+ chefs
The HIV-positive staff of June’s Eatery

Last month, Casey House, a Canadian hospital specializing in HIV and AIDS, opened a pop-up restaurant staffed with HIV+ chefs.

Inspired by a survey that found only half of Canadians would eat food prepared by someone with HIV or AIDS, the pop-up restaurant was here to challenge that stigma.

June’s Eatery, named after Casey House founder June Callwood, featured 14 HIV+ chefs. The event was a huge success, completely selling out reservations for the two-night event.

We spoke with Joanne Simmons, Casey House’s CEO, about the event and what’s next for the project.

According to Simmons, the feedback from the pop-up was incredible. She cites positive things from the media coverage and global conversation the pop-up inspired. She notes, however, that social media was where most of the hard work of destigmatizing HIV happened. Social media, after all, was what highlighted the need for the campaign to begin with.

Four of the 14 chefs were already public with their HIV status, according to Simmons. Still, all 14 felt proud to participate in the event.

‘It gave them confidence,’ Simmons says. In fact, one of the chefs who is also a journalist was able to get more work because of the event.

Simmons says Casey House is planning the next phases of the project so that more people have the opportunity to experience it. There has been interest from other cities across the world in hosting a June’s Eatery pop-up.

‘I have a newfound respect for all restaurant owners,’ Simmons says with a laugh when asked if June’s will ever be a permanent eatery. For Casey House, this event was more about the conversation than the restaurant itself.

And indeed, it’s a conversation that still needs to be had.


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