April Tam Smith ’06 moved from Hong Kong to the United States with her parents when she was 11 years old—the same age her mother had been when she started working in a clothing factory to help support her family. This is a fact that has never been lost on Tam Smith and that has motivated her to devote her life to creating opportunities for those in need.
When she chose MIT, Tam Smith decided to study environmental engineering. But when she couldn’t find a summer internship in engineering her sophomore year, she decided to give finance a try. “I interned on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and realized I really liked it. It fits my personality really well. I love an energetic environment, I love that every day is different, and I love mental math.”
After graduating in just three years, Tam Smith joined the large investment bank where she’s worked for the past 14 years, currently serving as managing director of an equity sales and trading team. While working to build a career in finance, she sought out increasingly intensive volunteer and philanthropic efforts. She started tutoring a young girl in the Bronx and volunteering at a safe home for women who have been trafficked. She went on a service trip to South Africa to volunteer at an orphanage for HIV-positive children. And an initial trip to Haiti led to 13 more, assisting with jobs creation and life-giving opportunities for men and women in the garment sector, such as night school and on-site cancer screening.
If I didn’t care, couldn’t see the results, and didn’t have the amount of compassion and love that I feel for the causes that I’m a part of, it would get really exhausting really fast.
Tam Smith frequently reached out to her family and friends to ask for their help with these endeavors. Then one day, “My friend, who’s now my business partner, said, ‘Why don’t we just start a small business and give away all the profits? That way you can use the money to fund all of the organizations that you believe in and it becomes more sustainable.’”
That suggestion eventually led to P.S. Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in New York City’s Times Square that gives away 100 percent of its profits while also providing work for those in need of a fresh start. “I mentored a woman that was in prison for 20 years, and I really got to see how important meaningful work is,” says Tam Smith. “We wanted to start a business where we could hire people without a lot of experience who might have a hard time finding employment otherwise.” The restaurant, which launched in August 2017, has provided a second chance for more than 40 people from marginalized backgrounds, including many who have been previously incarcerated, have battled homelessness, or have survived domestic abuse.
Tam Smith and her P.S. Kitchen partners and staff look forward to continuing to serve delicious, healthy, and sustainable food while helping to fund charity efforts worldwide. They are investigating opportunities to expand in the New York area and internationally. Meanwhile, P.S. Kitchen and its partners and supporters have already created ample impact through organizations such as Justice Rising, an education nonprofit that has built 10 schools in Congo (and is helping to get three additional schools started); Restore NYC, aimed at ending sex trafficking; and Share Hope, a socially-responsible apparel manufacturer in Haiti whose board Tam Smith chairs.
When asked how she balances it all, Tam Smith says it comes down to passion and grit. “If I didn’t care, couldn’t see the results, and didn’t have the amount of compassion and love that I feel for the causes that I’m a part of, it would get really exhausting really fast. But I get to see the fruits of my labor, and it’s really energizing. So it doesn’t feel like I’m working all the time, even though, if you look at a schedule, I am. Life’s short and as much as I can do while I’m here to lift up even just one other person, I think it is worth it.”