This Refugee-Run Food Hall Brings Underrepresented Cuisines to Colorado
Mango House is a lifeline for Aurora’s refugee population.
From the outside, Mango House looks like any other building on East Colfax Avenue. You’d never guess that inside is a haven where refugees can gain access to healthcare, 15 places of worship, and youth organizations—or that it’s home to a unique, refugee-run food hall that’s open to the public.
Dr. P.J. Parmar founded Mango House in Aurora, Colorado in 2014, with the goal of providing a shared space for local refugees. Initially, the organization consisted solely of Ardas Family Medicine, a healthcare clinic with an open-door policy where refugees could seek out medical, dental, and educational services. After moving into what was previously a sizable mini-mall in 2019, Mango House expanded to include the food hall, which is now home to seven stalls and flags from countries around the world, such as Myanmar, Lebanon, and Ukraine.
“When I saw the place available across the street to move into, which was five times bigger than what we were doing before, it was appealing,” Parmar says. “I envisioned having my patients cook up some food for not only their communities, but for non-refugees who were visiting.”
Parmar’s inspiration to open the food hall came from an influx of non-refugees visiting the original Mango House location, asking for ways to get involved. Mango House does not take donations or volunteers, however, as it’s a private medical practice and business with over 15,000 visits a year. But given that over 20% of Aurora’s residents are foreign-born, with the majority of those residents being refugees, Parmar knew he needed to find a way to bridge the gap between the two groups.
“We would have corporate groups and mothers bringing their kids to observe and learn, but that became kind of a zoo-like activity,” Parmar says. “Instead, the food hall allows non-refugees to feel like they’re doing some part by supporting the businesses, and it doesn’t become an exhibitionist sort of thing, where people are trying to pretend to do some volunteer work that isn’t really necessary.”
Now, Mango House’s seven food stalls are all run by refugees who are also Parmar’s patients. Locals stop by on their lunch breaks to feast on Nan gyi thoke (noodles coated in chicken curry), Jhol Momo (Kathmandu-style vegetable dumplings), potato samosas, and tabbouleh. It has also become a destination Denverites gladly make the trek for.
The wide array of underrepresented cuisines—from Syrian, to Nepalese, to Somali—set Mango House apart from the region’s limited food scene. One of their restaurants, Urban Burma, owned by Siri Tan, was the first Burmese restaurant to open in the Denver Metropolitan area. Altogether, the food hall allows patrons to indulge in fares otherwise not ubiquitous in their neighborhood, and more importantly, it gives refugees the opportunity to serve their native food, which holds warm memories of the homelands they were forced to leave behind.
“The food hall shows their heritage. People have a caretaking nature; they want to show their hospitality. They're proud of their creations, and when people enjoy them,” Parmar says. “We all eat, we all have our cultural foods that we want to share with others.”