Under their company Noisy Tenants, Nicholas Mitchel and Christopher Landrum volunteered with Mervo high school students to launch a pop-up restaurant, Noisy Burger, in R. House. Now, the duo have a permanent stall in the food hall. (Courtesy photo)
By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Nicholas Mitchel and Christopher Landrum are the duo that comprise Noisy Tenants, a community-centered production agency based in Baltimore. Production, for them, does not necessarily imply film-making all the time. The partners look at each project they undertake through a production lense, but their primary goal is to empower community members who are often overlooked.
They seek to reduce the number of aspirations that are suspended because of inequity and lack of resources, and their restaurant Noisy Burger is no exception to that. “It’s about creating this community and this world that we want to live in and operating in a way based on how we would want to do business,” said Nicholas Mitchel.
Noisy Burger first opened in R. House food hall in 2017 as a temporary pop-up shop. Landrum, who is an alumnus of Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School (Mervo), said he and his partner were searching for an opportunity for Noisy Tenants to engage with the youth in Baltimore City. Mervo, for Landrum, is a school full of businesses so he reached out to a teacher to see if the duo could volunteer with students at the school.
After getting the greenlight from the principal, Landrum and Mitchel connected with students that had a work study period. “We kind of just walked in, introduced ourselves and started asking questions about the things they wanted to see differently at their school, things they enjoyed about their school and how they could see themselves being the change that they wanted to see,” said Landrum.
The students were interested in the food industry, and ultimately, decided they wanted to open their own restaurant. Landrum and Mitchel separated the students into four groups asking them to devise a business plan with a name, menu and marketing strategies. Burgers for You became the winning concept and was rebranded to be named Noisy Burger. When they opened in April 2017, the turnout was prodigious.
“I think for the students to kind of be a part of the process from the beginning stages of it all the way through implementation, and then to see it be successful, I think was really powerful and important,” said Landrum.
However, the pop-up was temporary. It was not until March of 2020 that R. House had a spot available for a permanent restaurant. The food hall launched a campaign to fill the open stall with a minority-owned business so the Noisy Tenants partners threw their name in the hat. In the summer, Noisy Burger was chosen.
It took about two months for the partners to accept. The COVID-19 pandemic had already forced many restaurants to close, and they had some doubts about whether they would be successful. “We ultimately landed on the fact that it was a risk worth taking,” said Landrum. “If it were to fail, we wouldn’t feel like we didn’t try.”
Noisy Burger opened permanently at R. House in December 2020. Every staff member is either a Mervo student from the previous launch or a current Baltimore city student outside of the restaurant’s general manager.
Mitchel said there is often a negative narrative that surrounds young people today, but, in reality, they care about their neighborhoods and community, and they want to effect change. The youth just need to be presented with opportunities to fulfill their ambitions. Mitchel hopes more businesses will work to make this happen.
“Another conversation is around how this is an extraordinary project when it really isn’t at the end of the day. These youth have the ideas, and they have all the stuff within them to get it done,” said Mitchel. “It’s just the opportunities are not presented to them the same way that they would be in a suburb somewhere else.”
His request is that well-resourced entities engage companies, like Noisy Tenants, to allow them to contribute more to their communities.
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