It’s 2 p.m. at Mo de Movimiento in Madrid, and Yannik Asong has just shaped two dozen walnut loaves and set them to rise. Bread-baking has become a popular hobby for many during quarantine, but for 29-year-old Asong, who fled Cameroon in 2013 and lived in shelters until this year, it has been a lifeline. “Making bread, having this job, I’m finally calm in my head,” he says. “You would not believe what I’ve been through. It’s like a movie.”
Mo, helmed by entrepreneurs Felipe Turell and Javier Antequera, is the current it place for trendy dining in Madrid. Spanish Instagram is awash with photos of its soaring brutalist interiors, the patio shaded by orange trees, and blistery pizzas topped with a rainbow of seasonal veggies. But what looks like a normal restaurant to the average customer is actually an ambitious, complex social experiment focused on sustainability and economic justice. Half of Mo’s staff, Asong included, are at-risk youth, refugees, the formerly incarcerated, former addicts, and a range of other marginalized people recruited from local charities such as Raíces, Fundación Tomillo, and Norte Joven. Eighteen countries are represented among the staff at Mo.
Countless restaurants call themselves sustainable, but the hospitality industry is notorious for greenwashing: An heirloom tomato and biodegradable fork do not make for a sustainable restaurant. But Mo checks out. The pizza ovens are jerry-rigged so that their exhaust heats the space in the winter, while water-filled clay tinajas (jugs) dangling from the ceiling are fitted with cooling elements for energy-efficient air conditioning in the summer.
Virtually all of the furniture, fixtures, and decoration—from the chairs to the tables to the servers’ uniforms—is made from recycled materials. The massive fluorescent light fixtures? Salvaged from parking garages. The tapestries that hang in the patio? Woven from the discarded wool of Basque latxa sheep. The tabletops? Fashioned out of the pulverized rubble of the Teatro de Espronceda, Mo’s predecessor.
What the restaurant must buy new—namely, the food—it sources from responsible and organic purveyors close to home. That care shines through in what are perhaps Madrid’s best pizzas—made with stone-ground Castilian flours, Riojan vegetables, and Galician parmesan. The pizzas are the brainchild of Sardinian baker Matteo Concu, who leavens the dough with wild yeast waters that he concocts from leftover fruit from the kitchen. “The cherry water was a revelation,” he told me on a recent visit. Concu’s pies are sublime, combining the heady char of a Neapolitan-style pizza with the structural integrity of a New York slice.