Queens Food Delivery Startup Hires, Trains Refugees as Chefs

An Long Island City-based meal delivery and catering company has a recipe for helping refugees who are resettling in New York City. NY1's Tanya Klich filed the following report.

When Manal Kahi studied at Columbia University, the Lebanon-native always craved hummus. But local dishes never measured up. So she whipped up her own dip, and later, her brother Wissam whipped up a business plan.

“When we started thinking of who could make that amazing hummus like the one my grandma makes back home, we thought of Syrian refugees. That was in the midst of the Refugee Crisis,” said Kahi.

“Then the idea expanded from there to say, 'why just hummus?” added Wissam. 

The siblings launched “Eat Offbeat” in November.

“Eat Offbeat delivers authentic ethnic meals that are conceived, prepared and delivered by refugees in New York," said Kahi. 

They work with the International Rescue Committee to hire cooks seeking asylum from countries like Egypt and Tibet.

Dahuha Jasim is from Iraq.

"She's responsible for potato kibbeh, those are potato croquettes, but at home she really cooks everything," said Jasim, as translated by Kahi.

"These are not cuisines you find at every corner in the city," said Kahi.

Flushing resident Satakshi Rimal commutes daily to Eat Offbeat’s Long Island City kitchen. The Nepali refugee says she's come a long way since the startup hired her this year as kitchen manager.

“You come into a new country and you're not fully accepted but then here, they look for people who are not accepted elsewhere, and they make a family,” said Rimal.

They also hired a chef who’s worked at Michelin-rated restaurants.

“My role in the kitchen is to make sure that first of all, they learn how to work in a professional kitchen," said Juan Suarez de Lezo, the startup’s chief culinary officer.

The startup mostly serves Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and has catered parties of ten to 350.

But Manal Kahi says they have a larger mission in mind: "To change the narrative around refugees and show them they’re bringing a lot of value into the country," she said.

"It's been a good bridge for our family or for anyone here who's left everything behind," said Rimal.

While Eat Offbeat’s mission is to help refugees, they say their employees also help them by teaching new cooking techniques and exciting dishes like momos -- or vegetable dumplings -- from Nepal.

“It was my great grandma's recipe,” said Rimal.

"I already worked in China before but she has a new way to make them," said Chef Suarez de Lezo. And that’s the special touch these refugees bring to New York's food scene.

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