When Brittani Farrington and her husband moved to Canada from Michigan a few years ago so that he could pursue a PhD, little did she know that some volunteer interests would develop into a new business adventure with other newcomers, specifically three women who had fled violence and arrived in Hamilton with their families, and with more than a thousand other Syrians early in 2016.
Brittani befriended several Syrian families as they resettled in Hamilton and soon learned firsthand of their amazing culinary skills. She used her own restaurant food service and marketing background and connected with Kim Kralt who brought catering, food service, and business experience to the mix. Within a matter of months, the Karam Kitchen was born as a catering firm that is co-owned by Farrington and Kralt with Rawa’a, Dalal, and Manahel as employees. Karam is Arabic for “Generous,” referring to the food but also the attitude.
The motto of the business is
“Welcoming refugees, Empowering women, Crafting delicacies.”
The whirlwind beginning of Karam Kitchen and the “can do” attitude of all the women involved is a good news story that has been picked up by various media outlets, including front page coverage in The Hamilton Spectator, Saveur magazine, Chatelaine, and CBC Radio’s Metro Morning Show. CHTV and foodie writers visit Karam Kitchen to profile this feel-good business and sample their wares. Much of the coverage is documented on Karam Kitchen’s Facebook page and shared on Twitter, including beautiful photographs.
A Kickstarter campaign in July 2016 resulted in $17, 406 pledged, almost triple the original goal which was raised after only a few days into the campaign. These funds have been used to purchase cooking equipment, large insulated bags for meal delivery, and other needed supplies.
Sourcing of Ingredients and Supplies
Fresh ingredients are very important to Syrian cooking, which shares many similarities to Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cuisines. Readers will be familiar with dishes such as tabbouleh, falafel, and hummous, but they have many more lesser-known delicious items on the menu such as Moutabel (smokey eggplant dip), Kousa Mahshi (stuffed zucchini) and Shish Burak (hand-stuffed meat dumplings stewed in a rich yogurt sauce).
When I asked Rawa’a, Dalal, and Manahel what makes their food so good, they told me it was because
“all from nature.”
One of them joked that it is the best because the cooks are the best!
Karam Kitchen sources its food supplies from Fiddes Wholesale Produce and Medina Fine Foods (both links are to Facebook pages), locally-owned family businesses with good prices and good service. Medina carries a wide variety of spices as well as the halal meat that is used in all the dishes.
“We love that we’re supporting another local Middle Eastern business,”
says Brittani. Fortunately, Medina Fine Foods carries the special Lebanese zucchini — a smaller, paler variety with a bulbous end – needed for some of their dishes.
What would help immigrant entrepreneurs?
It is very difficult to come to a new country and figure out how to navigate a highly regulated environment. Farrington says that from her perspective it feels like things are moving along very quickly, the other women wonder why it has taken so long to launch the business.
“Why can’t we just go set up a stall at the Farmers Market?”
they asked. Whereas North Americans might expect to face numerous steps in the business start up, in other countries the process is less cumbersome and regulated.
In the longer term, it would be great to have a public-facing space such as a market stall, in which the Syrian women could gain customer service experience and interact with the public. Today, they work on their English but enjoy each other’s comfort and the language of the kitchen is Arabic mixed with occasional English words.
In the near future, Karam Kitchen will be participating in the City of Hamilton’s inaugural NOSH Week, a celebration of the local food scene, by offering public workshops on how to make Syrian pita bread. The women will also be partnering with other local chefs as part of a Pop Up Hamilton dinner event sometime this fall.
Photo credits: J. Walton
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator