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Conflict Kitchen to move message of tolerance Downtown

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 2:44 p.m.

Customers at the Conflict Kitchen in East Liberty are greeted by Lauren Pucci, who immediately steers the conversation to subjects ranging from Middle Eastern politics to the types of teas preferred by Persians.

She stays engaged with the guests until the moment she hands them their brightly wrapped Iranian sandwich.

Conflict Kitchen is a politically themed restaurantt hat serves food from countries that the United States is currently in conflict with -- along with a side dish of political discussion aimed at promoting cultural acceptance and awareness.

Now, after two years, the restaurant is planning a move from East Liberty to a location Downtown this summer.

"I think that the main benefit will be that it's going to be a sit-down restaurant," Pucci, an employee, says. "Our concept is to really get people and to have dialogue. Here you can talk, and you can give information, but to really have a conversation ... it's not conducive to it."

Created two years ago by artists Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, the restaurant's niche is that it cycles through a menu of staple food from countries that the United States is in conflict with.

"The food functions as a seduction," says Rubin, which lures people into conversation.

The cash-only establishment rotates its country of focus every few months to expose Pittsburghers to other cultures.

"We thought it would be interesting to create a takeout restaurant that could serve food from countries and cultures that aren't represented in the Pittsburgh landscape, but also a place to initiate a conversation about these cultures and politics of what's going on in these countries," Rubin says.

The aroma wafting from the kitchen of the small storefront are of Iranian food, a revival of the food served when the restaurant first opened. The repeat of Iranian cuisine was decided upon to bring to light the current political issues between the United States and Iran.

Pucci, a University of Pittsburgh graduate with a master's degree in public international affairs concentrating on Middle Eastern studies, is a knowledgeable employee and eagerly shares her knowledge with the hungry patrons that approach the Conflict Kitchen counter.

She explains that the banner outside is in Farsi, an Iranian/Persian language, and reads "Kubideh Kitchen." "Kubideh" is a type of Iranian meat, which Conflict Kitchen serves as a wrap sandwich on "barbari" bread, similar to a pita, for $5.

There is a vegetarian option of a "kookoo sabzi" sandwich, which according to Pucci, translates as "walnut-vegetable" in Farsi. It also costs $5.

Since opening in 2010, the restaurant has served: Iranian food, Afghani food and Venezuelan food. Conflict Kitchen also spreads cultural awareness through Skype dinners with members of other nations and the informative sandwich wrappers including interviews with regular Iranian citizens.

With the lease on the current building at 124 S. Highland Ave. in East Liberty expiring in August, Conflict Kitchen will be calling Downtown its new home. The owners have not yet identified a specific Downtown location. With money from the Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh-based grant organization for innovative ideas, Conflict Kitchen has big plans to expand, including an area for interested parties to sit down and chat.

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