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Haiti earthquake: Restaurateur turns Port-au-Prince eatery into soup kitchen

Clifford Rouzeau has turned Muncheez – a popular pizza-and-ribs joint that the poor could once only dream about – into a place where thousands of those left homeless by last week's magnitude-7.0 earthquake can get a free hot meal.

Clifford Rouzeau has provided hot meals to thousands of Haitians since shortly after the 7.0 earthquake hit on Jan. 12. 'It started as a way to use up the leftover stocks from the three restaurants,' he says. 'People were hungry. I didn't want it to go to waste.'

Howard LaFranchi

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Clifford Rouzeau stands on the second-floor terrace of his restaurant-turned-soup-kitchen in the Haitian capital’s Petionville quarter, and explains his turn to philanthropy in the matter-of-fact manner of the businessman that he is.

“Look, none of my three restaurants here got damaged in the earthquake. I see that as a blessing from God,” he says. “So I figure I might as well pass on the blessing.”

The form that blessing takes is the free hot food that Mr. Rouzeau has prepared in his restaurant kitchen every day since shortly after the earthquake hit on Jan. 12. Every afternoon lines form outside the downstairs entrance of the Muncheez restaurant in Petionville, Port-au-Prince’s chic neighborhood – if anything here can be called chic.

The line snakes upstairs to the open kitchen counter, and everyone picks up a plate of rice, some beans and plantain, maybe even some chicken or pork.

Then it’s back down a second staircase, no sitting or hanging around.

Rouzeau tries to play down his action, explaining that the whole operation is grounded in practicality. “It started as a way to use up the leftover stocks from the three restaurants,” he says, surveying the line of waiting diners below that never seems to shorten. “People were hungry. I didn’t want it to go to waste.”

It’s clear that many of those waiting in line think it’s a special occasion, and it is a respite from the dreary and stressful life in homeless camps where several hundred thousand Haitians in the ruined capital have settled. Some women dress up a little for the occasion, and children especially carry out their plate from Muncheez as if they’d just won the grand prize.

It helps to know that Muncheez has been a popular Port-au-Prince pizza-and-ribs shop for over a decade, the kind of third-world place where the elite -- those with a regular salary -- can eat and be seen regularly, but which the poor can only dream about.

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