What would you do if you had to leave your country with nothing?
A friend invited me to a blind tasting of some middle eastern foods she and her aunt were considering bringing to market. Because I never say never to any foods of the Mediterranean variety, I showed up, ready to test, rate and chat.
What I hadn’t expected was a group of fellow food lovers, one whose stories riveted me.
This man was a successful journalist who had fled Syria, a political refugee, in the ’60s to Denmark. To flee your homeland with nothing, and no idea of what you’ll do in the new land, must be terrifying. You’ve got to be a resilient, brave, creative and open-minded soul to thrive.
To boot, whenever I hear of people leaving a warm climate for a place with notorious cold winters (like Somali to Minnesota), the story becomes even more fascinating.
So this man told how he had landed in Denmark, with nothing, and went to an employment agency to explore career possibilities.
Over the course of a couple decades, this once-journalist was a bath and body shop (parfumerie) owner, restaurant owner (ditched it after being embezzled by employees), cookbook author (to share his recipes) then caterer (because people knew how good his food was, and he wouldn’t be embezzled that way).
What So Intrigued Me
He pointed to the current Syrian displacement as being very similar to his experience.Hearing his story of starting a restaurant — and introducing the Danish to garlic, which at first they asked him to leave out…and later asked him to pile on — led to a discussion of an idea I’ve been wondering about:
Could a middle eastern fast food chain like Brazil’s Habib’s (only with more authentic recipes) be a recipe for the many Syrian refugees landing in cities around the U.S. to find (or create) employment? In Brazil, Arabic food is so integrated with Brazilian cuisine, no one thinks twice if the meatball they’re eating is Arabic kibbe or the pizza is sfiha.
Falafel chains like Maoz Vegetarian are starting to pop up, and there’s no denying hummus is a trend that isn’t going away. Entrepreneur wrote about Mediterranean as being the next big fast food franchise trend.
This man, who brought a love of garlic to Denmark, symbolizes the ultimate entrepreneur and the power of a resilient, can-do attitude.
I predict on this date in 2020, we’ll have a beloved “Chipotle of Middle Eastern food” thanks to people like him.