Thinking about Refugee Food Businesses

In these times, it’s heartening to read about other organizations helping refugees through food businesses.

When we were first getting started, Keith and board members of the Providence Granola Project researched models for a social enterprise food business and visited one in New York called Hot Bread Kitchen. It had a Bakers in Training program designed to support low-income, minority and immigrant women in launching culinary careers and food businesses.

The new company Eat Offbeat has a related approach. It focuses on cuisine made by refugees in NYC and offered in a delivery service. Refugees are hired as the chefs who prepare cuisine from their own cultures. 

Recently, Autumn Spanne wrote about Eat Offbeat at the Guardian. "When Manal Kahi arrived in New York from Lebanon two years ago, to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, she longed for authentic hummus, but couldn’t find a restaurant or supermarket that came close to her expectations. So she started making her own, based on a recipe from her Syrian grandmother.

"The recipe was a hit with her friends, and it occurred to Kahi that there might be a successful business in it. The idea also dovetailed with her growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis. ...

"She decided to start a social enterprise designed to help refugees from all over the world get established in their new country and provide New Yorkers a positive entry point for interacting with the city’s refugee community. ...

Sound familiar? This made us wonder: maybe there should be a trade group for social enterprises employing refugees through a food business.

Our own Chef Evon and Assistant Kitchen Manager, Bola, with Jawahir and Media, in training.

Our own Chef Evon and Assistant Kitchen Manager, Bola, with Jawahir and Media, in training.

“The result went far beyond hummus. [In January], Kahi and her brother launched Eat Offbeat, a for-profit meal delivery startup that employs recently resettled refugees from around the world as chefs who prepare traditional dishes from their countries of origin. ...

"Al Janabi, who uses only her last name out of concern for the safety of family still in Iraq, was one of Eat Offbeat’s first hires. ... For months, she was afraid to go anywhere alone. Her first solo trip on the subway was to the Eat Offbeat kitchen in Brooklyn. ...

“ 'I want people in the US to know that refugees have few opportunities here, but we bring our skills with us,' she said. 'We come in difficult circumstances.' 

"Al Janabi and two other refugees from Nepal and Eritrea ... learned basic food preparation and hygiene techniques – skills that they can use to get other jobs, or perhaps eventually open their own business, said Kahi.

“ 'Ultimately we want to change the narrative around refugees, for New Yorkers and the rest of world to see that refugees don’t have to be a burden, they have economic value.' ” More here.


Caroline Ellis of SuzannesMomsBlog submitted this post.