I wanted to call this, “How to Start a New Business,” but I thought the irony might be lost on all of you (except for my first few customers, who would get the irony for sure!)
The fact is, I have helped many friends with start-up paperwork, copy, marketing, etc. for their businesses, but I’ve never run a business of my own. As a freelance writer, I’ve been fortunate to work with some interesting people, and the work is always varied. I was even lucky enough to have a steady gig the last four years using my Arabic. But one thing about freelancing that isn’t varied? How you do the work – on the computer.
It’s fine. I can sit in the garden, sit in my comfy chair, work in Portland, or Seaside, or Phoenix…that’s a big advantage. But the common thread through all of this is…sit. And I don’t much like to sit, or stare at a screen, for that matter. Still, I wasn’t thinking about Syrian Home Cooking. Well, maybe as a vague idea. As a, “people might like this” idea. But nothing serious, until…
I’d been waiting for eight years for the fighting to die down in Syria. And really, I’d been waiting to see who would be in charge at the end of the war. There’s no such thing as a moderate rebel. In Syria, people know what the media doesn’t tell you here – every rebel-held area in Syria was operated under strict, Saudi-style, Taliban-style shari’a law. When the rebels took over Homs, they told my sister to leave because she’s Christian. “You don’t live here anymore. If we see you again, we’ll kill you.” I knew it wouldn’t be safe to travel to any area under rebel control, and my family lived in an area that was shelled by rebels on a regular basis. So I waited.
By the end of 2017, the war had died down. The rebels had left our valley and finally, Homs. I told my husband, “I’m going.” He wasn’t nuts about the idea, believe me, but after 23 years of marriage, he didn’t even put up token resistance. Whenever I mentioned it, he’d just look me in the eye, and say, super seriously, “be careful.”
I bought my ticket in March. Applied for my visa in April. I contemplated having a bake sale to raise money for families in need. But for some silly reason, I didn’t decide to go forward with it until JULY. Yes, 90-degree July. Nonetheless, the bake sale was a huge success. My darling friend, Kurumi Ishikawa Conley (you may know her from her fused glass art studio, located right here in Concordia neighborhood), came over every day and baked with me (in all that HOT weather). My daughter, Madelaine, baked. My friend, Izdehar, came over after work (which starts at 5 a.m.) and baked. My dear friend, Diyana Kassab, owner of Concordia gem, Aladdin’s Cafe, let me use her ovens and fryer, pretty much saving my life! Altogether, we turned out 10 to 15 dozen each of seven different items. And then, we sold out of everything in six hours! And turned people away.
We raised over $1,700, which I distributed throughout the villages in our valley. The money went to widows and children, and people injured in the war. My nephew, Shadi, helped me identify people who had the greatest need and the fewest resources. And before I left, he said to me, “if you can raise money in the future, I will give it to three of these families that have no one to help them.”
I couldn’t really stop thinking about this, but I also need to earn a living. After talking to my friends and family, I decided to start a new company, Syrian Home Cooking. If I could make a living while cooking, I could donate a portion of the profits to help those families in Syria, share my cooking and heritage with my neighbors, and spend some of my work hours doing something I love!
The idea was simple (I thought!): Make a list of home-cooked goods. Mostly things that aren’t available in Middle Eastern restaurants. Things I enjoy making and that I’m good at. Offer a couple of different items a week, on a rotating basis. Invite my neighbors to pick-up their orders. Make a reasonable schedule, so I get off the computer part of the time, but still have enough time for my bread-and-butter job. Make sense?
The hand pies and kibbe were a slam-dunk. Every time I make them, my husband and kids gobble them up. They’re great for on-the-go. They make healthy snacks, or a meal, if you eat more than one. They reheat easily and freeze for long-term storage. Everyone makes hummous and baklawa, but not so much, muhammara or ghraibe. Everything on the menu is something I love. These are foods I’ve made over and over through the years. Foods that I’ve served to my friends and family. And now, I’d like to serve them to you!