John Allums grabs a plate of Iraqi food during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event at Bilad Bakery & Restaurant in Richardson, Texas on March 8, 2017. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

John Allums grabs a plate of Iraqi food during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event at Bilad Bakery & Restaurant in Richardson, Texas on March 8, 2017. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

Staff Photographer

Breaking Bread D-FW wasn't a protest; that part is important.

Though the special dinner Wednesday at Richardson's Bilad Bakery and Restaurant was conceived as a response to President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban — the widely challenged and now-revised executive order on immigration signed on Jan. 27 — there were no signs or chants in opposition. There was no lecture or formal programming. It was simply a meal where community members could come together, hang out and enjoy the restaurant's delicious Iraqi fare.

Al Bilad Bakery and Restaurant

The event was a special one-off version of Breaking Bread NYC, a dining series that focuses on businesses owned and staffed by citizens originally from the seven Muslim-majority countries placed under travel restrictions in the January order. Faced with multiple lawsuits challenging the order's constitutionality, Trump this week signed a replacement, which — among other revisions —no longer includes Iraq on the list of countries specified in the ban. The new order goes into effect on March 16.

Iraq's removal from the list did not, however, make the dinner's Iraqi-style menu or the fact that the restaurant is owned by Fuad Al Bawyma, an Iraqi immigrant, seem less apropos. Bilad is staffed by several employees from Sudan, which remains on the banned list, but Breaking Bread isn't really about countries or demarcation lines. It isn't for Muslims only, nor is it a meetup for people who weren't born in America. It's more about taking a seat next to someone new -- and eating tasty food.

Breaking Bread NYC was founded by Jeff Orlick, who, with local resident Salvy Muhammad, co-organized the dinner at Bilad. Orlick credits his own heritage as a Jewish American for informing and inspiring the Breaking Bread mission.

Ali Entisar serves a plate of Iraqi food during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event on March 8, 2017.

Ali Entisar serves a plate of Iraqi food during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event on March 8, 2017.

Nathan Hunsinger / The Dallas Morning News

"Jews were not being accepted in America just 80 years ago," he says. "That's a big part of it, and it is something that should never happen again. I have an affinity for refugees."

But Orlick's experience with planning food tours has not always focused exclusively on immigrant-owned businesses. For three years, he organized events near his home in Queens purely for the sake of introducing fellow curious epicureans to new culinary experiences. He has since retired from his full-time tour-planning role, but as anxiety flared over airport detentions during the immediate aftermath of the January ban, he began thinking of ways to put his particular skill set to use. Food is a common language, he says. It's something almost every human seeks and enjoys on a daily basis. A relaxed, communal meal seemed like an obvious way to help mend fences. Or, at least offer a bit of comfort.

A list of common Iraqi Arabic phrases on the table during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event at Bilad Bakery.

A list of common Iraqi Arabic phrases on the table during the 'Breaking Bread' cultural exchange dining event at Bilad Bakery.

Nathan Hunsinger / The Dallas Morning News

Orlick isn't the only one who thought so; new supper clubs and dining events have cropped up across the country in recent days, The New York Times reports. Some of these are explicitly focused on political organization and action, whereas others, like Breaking Bread NYC, are geared more toward cultural exchange and basic friendliness. Some events take place in public restaurants, while in other cases, groups share meals in private residences. Language can be a barrier at times -- at least until the first plates are served. Almost everyone understands expressions of hunger and satisfaction, Orlick says.

In Dallas, a similarly named dining series called Break Bread, Break Borders was founded by artist Jin-Ya Huang in partnership with Make Art with Purpose, a nonprofit that aims to be a "resource center for creative projects that are shaping and transforming the world in positive ways." 

Huang says her dining series project is still in exploratory stages, but the idea is to have three to four events per year where home chefs are paired with professional chefs from vastly different backgrounds to prepare a meal for the wider community. It was conceived as a way to honor the memory of her late mother, who was a "chef, immigrant and community leader." 

Community chefs shop at Sara's Market & Bakery in Richardson as they prepare for the first Break Bread, Break Borders event earlier this month. 

Community chefs shop at Sara's Market & Bakery in Richardson as they prepare for the first Break Bread, Break Borders event earlier this month. 

James Coreas

When her family first moved to the United States from Taiwan, they struggled with the language barrier, Huang says, but she and her parents were able to find other ways to communicate. For Huang, it was art; her parents opened a restaurant. She wants to help others find that type of empowerment through the creative process of cooking.

"The project is inspired by my mom as an homage to her and her legacy, and through her spirit, it is very much a nonpartisan project," she says. "We are on the side of freedom." 

Orlick is similarly intentional in describing his event in terms of unity, rather than protest. He says his food tours have always been in the interest of helping others come together; it can be a bit scary, he notes, to walk into a business for the first time, especially one that looks a little different from what you're used to. 

"I have always wanted to help alleviate fears of other cultures," he says.

In that spirit, he decided to use his vacation as an opportunity to take a trip somewhere he had never been. He chose Dallas, and thought it would be fun to try out the Breaking Bread experiment in an entirely new place.

Like other northern suburbs, Richardson has garnered a local reputation for its relative diversity; if you're looking for pho, biryani or dim sum, smart researchers from Dallas often end up there. Bilad is part restaurant, part grocery store and is surrounded by similar businesses near the city's Chinatown. The meal at Bilad on Wednesday included Iraqi-style shawarma, kebabs, falafel, hummus and more for $20, which covered the cost of food plus tax and tips. Any remaining proceeds would go to an initiative to give free meals to people who don't have the money to pay to eat at Bilad, Orlick explains. 

Breaking Bread D-FW co-organizer, Salvy Muhammad, (standing) tells Daniel U about the spices in the shaker.

Breaking Bread D-FW co-organizer, Salvy Muhammad, (standing) tells Daniel U about the spices in the shaker.

Nathan Hunsinger / The Dallas Morning News

That's because Breaking Bread has never been about making money, he explains; the reward, he says, is found in satisfying curiosity about other cultures and people. And, while there's no formal plan to expand Breaking Bread nationally, Orlick hopes the D-FW experiment can stoke interest and conversations everywhere. The format is easily transferable to other places, he notes, and with myriad restaurants owned by first- and second-generation Americans, it seems D-FW has the potential to foster an ongoing series. 

Perhaps North Texans will pull up a chair and share a basket of bread with a friendly stranger again soon.

CORRECTION, 4:45 p.m., March 9, 2017: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jin-Ya Huang's name. It has been corrected throughout.

Scroll through for a closer glimpse at the Breaking Bread dining event on March 8 at Bilad:

Scroll through for a closer look at Break Bread, Break Borders:

The new program plans to present 3-4 community dinners per year in D-FW.  Here's a glimpse at preparation for the first installment earlier this month. 

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