0 comments on “Gladys Shahtou, Founder and Owner of Sambuxa NYC”

Gladys Shahtou, Founder and Owner of Sambuxa NYC

Sudanese cuisine is as diverse as its geography and cultures. In Northern Africa, particularly in Sudan, samosas (also known as sambuxas) are one of the many food staples for this local cuisine. Samosas are traditionally made with a very thin pastry dough that is stuffed with sweet and savory fillings like ground beef or sweet potato. While they can be eaten at any time of the year, samosas are usually reserved for special occasions like holidays and weddings. But no matter the occasion, it is a must to gather around the communal table to prepare these lavish treats like Gladys’s family does.

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Gladys is the owner of Sambuxa, a Sudanese food business in the NYC area. She was born in Sudan but moved at the age of five to Switzerland for her father’s job – a political activist. She went to college in Geneva where she studied International Relations. During this time, Gladys started preparing Sudanese dishes for her roommates which eventually led to a small catering business that helped pay for rent and other expenses. After college, Gladys started her master’s degree in International Management at the University of Bordeaux. She landed in a job in NY after, specifically at the UN, and then after a year and a half moved to D.C. She worked for the Democrats in 2017 right after the elections in the Marketing Department. But given the situation, Gladys did not have a chance in extending her contract.

After four months of sending applications but nothing in return, Gladys felt discouraged. “Even though for months is not much time, it was more of an ego thing for me. Having such an extensive resume (the UN, DMC, and others) and speaking five languages (French, German, English, Arabic and Swiss-German) I was really upset. I was between going back to Switzerland, Sudan, or looking for a different career path in NY”. After brainstorming and multiple conversations with colleagues, Gladys turned her situation into an opportunity. “I always wanted to launch a food business and this was a perfect time as I had no job and no immediate obligations. New York is also the perfect place to launch such business as so many people are willing to try different cuisines. And so I thought to myself, if I work so hard for someone else I might as well work hard for my own passion”.

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Sambuxa has now been in business for almost two years. The menu offers a variety of Sudanese dishes – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, cheese, and vegetable samosas, stews, wraps, salads, lentils, sweets and more! As she thinks about the future, Gladys is going back to Sudan for the holidays to do some research for an upcoming project: her own business incubator. In Sudan, there are a lot of underprivileged people who have no education but work in any means they find. A business incubator in the capital will help combat this problem and allow people to maximize their skills – either programming, coding, design, food or any other interest. “I want to have a place where the youth can gather, exchange ideas and obtain the necessary resources to start launch their own business. It is tough but doable”. Her vision is to imitate the U.S. system of providing free business courses, events and programs that help those who want to strengthen their weaknesses. In Sudan, for example, it is very popular to drink chai tea. Nowadays it is a very simple activity where people sit on top of crates on the streets, drink their tea, and get back to their routines. “Chai vendors are the Starbucks of Sudan”. According to Gladys, it is so popular that it can be transformed into a larger concept like a cafe. But to make this happen, people need guidance and the right tools; that is why Gladys wants to create her incubator. “Concept stores are very successful in the capital so I want children from the slums to be able to tap into that market and start learning about business”.

The Sudanese people need greater business guidance, and this is what Gladys’s past work experiences helped her realize why she wants to be involved in politics. Greater programs and foreign representation for these people is needed. She figured that by doing this herself she can put the resources where she wants them to go and oversee projects she truly values. “With all these charities and donations worldwide, no one ever knows where the funds head towards. For me, it is better to do it myself and see a direct impact”.

Gladys is fortunate to represent a cuisine that speaks for itself: very flavorful and welcoming. As there are not many African vendors in New York, she is definitely opening a new market. Gladys even wants to produce a Sudanese hot sauce and freeze her samosas to ship them nationwide. Go hard or go home as she said!

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0 comments on “Tommy Byrnes, Co-Founder of Jalapa Jar”

Tommy Byrnes, Co-Founder of Jalapa Jar

From serving breakfast tacos in a subway station in Austin, Texas to now opening their own store all the way in Brooklyn, Jalapa Jar continues to ascend the road of local success. Back in 2015, three friends had a great salsa recipe that at the beginning was only for friends and family gatherings. One worked in Wall Street, the other was in the food industry, and the other was involved in several Marketing and Business Development rolls. The three wanted to pursue something different and start their own business but weren’t exactly sure what. After many thought processes and friends’ encouragements, the three took the love for their salsa recipe to share it with the rest of the world and make it into an actual business.

They quickly got involved with Smorgasburg NYC, realizing the idea of a breakfast taco wasn’t as popular as in Texas or California. And since both tacos and salsas go together, the founders found themselves with an opportunity. From a taco standpoint, Jalapa Jar has definitely added its own twist. Among their specialties they have their garlic, jalapeño mashed potatoes with crumbled bacon, cheese, eggs, and cilantro. For a more afternoon bite, you can do their own bowl or taco with proteins ranging from super slow cooked shredded chicken, chopped steak, and mushroom with onions and garlic. The success of the salsa and taco makers had them join the catering business and many markets.

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But what was so special about this combo? This salsa company set itself apart from others like Tostitos for the freshness with no chemicals or preservatives. “You can purchase some Tostito’s salsas, send it to the moon and still be able to eat it”. We all know it is full of chemicals but we just blindfold ourselves. Jalapa Jar has proven that no chemicals are needed in order to preserve the ingredients. Yes of course it will not last you over a year. But if kept refrigerated, their salsas could last you up to 12 weeks. Red wine vinegar, lime juice, and the natural acidity of the tomatoes is all what’s needed. Jalapa Jar doesn’t look forward to become a national brand full of preservatives rather one like Blue Bottle Coffee or Van Lewens Ice Cream. Both have served as brand marketing inspirations for their artisanal nature, trying to be the best of their categories by sourcing the best ingredients, knowing exactly the best way to make it and presenting themselves as a very clean, ethical brand.

The founder also mentioned how through the development of the company they have not only learned how they want to position themselves in the market but also how to differentiate ingredients regarding sources, seasonality and taste. Jalapa Jar gets its ingredients from local produce manufacturers in the area, such as Baldor and Avanti. They are not able to directly work with farmers yet, but Tommy says as the company grows, they would be able to contact farmers and collaborate with them. In the end, they make it locally, they provide job opportunities to the local community, and also sell at local events like concerts and markets.

And like many food startups, it is currently at a kitchen incubator in the FIDI area. Economically it makes sense to be part of these incubators as small businesses don’t need to pay for kitchen space, rent, utilities, etc. and are also provided an education on how to run their operations successfully – forming some type of community where they support each other and each other’s companies. At the same time, Jalapa Jar has the best of both worlds: the incubator and their own space at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Building 77. With this latest venture, Jalapa Jar has the chance to produce even more salsa for a wider audience. As of now, they are in all the Wholefoods of New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York City. With their new location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they are striving to be in Massachusetts and D.C.

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Besides co-founder Tommy, we also interviewed chef Dillon. With a background in Mathematics, he got himself involved with food at his first job at Waffle Bar. “Just by looking at my apron and seeing all the flour and the mess, I loved it! From that point on, I developed a unique passion to serve people and provide the most delicious food”. Solidifying his interest, he pursued his career as a chef. Short Story, Jalapa Jar wouldn’t be the same without him. Here’s why. Early on, Jalapa Jar sticked to the original recipe as they knew for sure people enjoyed eating it. As neither Tommy nor Steve had much experience in developing recipes, there wasn’t much room for creativity. When Dillon tagged along, he positioned the company to take on new challenges. Many people think that when cooking, recipes are followed over and over again. Absolutely not. If you are going to be making food at a regular basis you need to be creative and learn as you go. Dillon started experimenting with the ingredients, adjusting the rations of fat or salt content for example, and started developing new outstanding recipes that are very popular nowadays.

Jalapa Jar’s strength in the market is certainly the simplicity of their ingredient list. But can you really grow to become a national brand and be in remote locations like Iowa if you are fresh? “It is still a work in progress and definitely have many plans that can potentially help us get there. For example, having a local manufacturer in different areas to reduce the delivery time. Yet again, another challenge as you need to put your trust with so many people like we do with Dillon. We hope we can disrupt the food system. That’s is why we are constantly asking ourselves new questions such as: What are the various forms we can cook our ingredients? or What natural ingredients play the same role as preservatives to have a longer shelf-life?”

Both founders admit it has definitely been a challenge as the routine of knowing exactly what your day is going to look like doesn’t exist anymore. “Now, we don’t get patted on the back every time we do something right like it was before”. But Tommy definitely credits his business background and Smith’s 15 years in the financial sector for their ever-growing success with their product. They are enthusiastic about the future as they know all the time, money, and resources they’ve put in has been worth it so far. Oh, and curious of where they got the name from? The first town in Mexico that grew jalapeños is called Jalapa.

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0 comments on “Lindsey Becker, founder of Farm Cut Meals”

Lindsey Becker, founder of Farm Cut Meals

Lindsey Becker was once part of the “Corporate America” pool who worked as a Strategic Consultant at Deloitte after being an Investment banker. But as it happens to many, one gets tired from sitting in front of the computer all day, not knowing if the work done is making any difference in the world. And sleep and a healthy lifestyle? What is that!? Becker actually found herself spending more of her time thinking about the catering orders for her team than her actual work. Everyone got excited when the company catered – except her. Simple, cold sandwiches and tasteless salads did not seem very appealing. And so realizing how naturally gravitated she was towards providing nutritious, wholesome foods to her colleagues, friends and family, Becker was ready to take the next step.

After working for a luxurious magazine where she planned events and dined with the most prestige clients, Becker decided to go after her dream of becoming a chef. She started to take evening cooking classes at ICE (Institute of Culinary Educations) while working at her day job in the restaurant Gramercy Tavern. But after a while, Becker knew she could do more in the restaurant than simply peeling tomatoes and cutting bread. She went from working in one of the best consulting firms to the “kitchen bitch” in no time. The simple tasks she was given did not provide much motivation to improve her skills and techniques. What it did provide, although, was an eye-opening experience of seeing how hard people in the restaurant industry work. “No one works harder than those in here. Long shifts, no air, always standing, minimal breaks, and working either super late at night or very early in the morning. It is definitely not easy”.

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By working at Gramercy Tavern, Becker had the advantage of being exposed to the most elite society in NYC and foster a relationship with them. Because of that, she found herself cooking as a personal chef to many of them – some for the tastiness of the meals and others for their health problems such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and infertility problems. Because she struggled herself with an eating disorder during college, Becker knew that food is in fact medicine. After all, helping society to become healthier through the power of organic, whole foods had always been her passion. But after many years, Becker realized she “wasn’t making any impact in the world by cooking for one rich family”. And so Farm Cut was born.

Farm Cut is a corporate catering service that features customized and à la carte menus available for delivery across New York City. Its menu bases itself on “comfort foods made from superfoods”. The mission is to enable masses of people to eat healthier foods and not have to worry about what ingredients are put since they are all listed in their labels. Farm Cut also tries to educate its community when catering their meals by listing the superfoods in their dishes and explaining why they are good for you as well as what the benefits are for your body.  “I want to show Americans just how “gourmet” healthy food can be and encourage them to get in the kitchen and cook with organic, local, nutrient-dense ingredients”. And so after catering her meals to Tone House in 2017, Becker realized her business could be scalable without needing millions of dollars of investments. Farm Cut even catered to the NY Knicks for their post-game meals! A lot of feedback was given during this time – understanding that people do not want the super healthy meals like a simple salad. They want something that fulfills them just like a bowl of pasta would. Basically comfort foods in a much healthier way. Which is what Farm Cut is all about. For example, some of their delicious items include Quinoa Mac & “Cheese” (GF quinoa pasta blended with turmeric, cauliflower, and butternut squash “cheese” sauce) or Not Your Mom’s Meatloaf  (beef with onions, carrots, celery, fennel, oregano, coconut flour, and homemade refined sugar-free tomato sauce).

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Everything on the menu is gluten-free, diary-free, soy free, and refined sugar-free. It is all created in order to boost the nutritional content in your meal without you noticing the swap of ingredients. Eating healthy should not be so hard nor so confusing. But that is a big problem in today’s society due to companies playing with our minds through their marketing scams. It is of no surprise why this country is having major issues with cancer, type-2 diabetes and obesity in five-year old children. According to a research study in 2018, the percentage of adults aged 20 and over with overweight, including obesity is 71.6%. The medical costs associated with obesity are enormous – and growing. One study estimated the annual medical care costs of obesity in the United States in 2008 dollars at $209.7 billion. It has escalated ever since. And because American society is structured around productivity and convenience, what is more convenient than going to McDonald’s and ordering a large Coke, some french fries and a double cheeseburger under five minutes? The temptation of unhealthy food greets us on every street corner, in our breakrooms and at our favorite supermarkets…

For many families struggling between paychecks, the foods that make the most financial sense are the processed, packaged, fatty choices serving up the most calories. Unfortunately it is because of poor governmental choices. It is absurd that it costs you more a pound of broccoli than eating at a fast-food chain. Everyone cringes at their grocery bills and it is saddening to see how politicians support corn and soy produce instead of local vegetable farmers, for example. But the government is not the sole cause. Education also plays a big role. If we start teaching our children’s palate to smarter food choices, the problem will definitely stop augmenting. Getting more nutrient dense meals at schools and kindergartens is necessary. But tricks can be applied to eating healthier on a budget. For example, get your poultry in different cuts like thighs or legs for a third of the price. Or frozen produce like vegetables and fruits that won’t go to waste after a week (also one of the reasons why there is so much food waste). Or eating seasonally is also a cheaper option.

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Education is also needed for young women who do not know what a proper meal looks like. They focus on counting calories and carbohydrates instead of the nutrients that need to be put in the body. Society doesn’t talk about it, but over 10 million American women suffer from eating disorders in the U.S. Many think that eating less will make you skinnier and beautiful. But in order to be healthy, bare children and have kids, like Becker, one needs the proper nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It is not about how many calories but about how many nutrient dense foods one puts on its plate. One does not need to pay attention to calorie counting as long as one does not eat more processed than unprocessed foods. Stick to the 80/20 rule -an approach to healthy eating teaching balance, moderation and indulging without a guilty feeling. In order to be healthy and balanced, you don’t always have to make 100% healthy food choices. 80% is enough. The remaining 20% you can choose less healthy food and indulge yourself!

As what the future holds for Becker, “I would like to focus my efforts more towards children’s nutrition and cooking classes in schools, where I believe I can make a tremendous impact on healthy eating habits.  I also hope to launch a nutritional consulting and menu development firm in a few years, with the goal of partnering with schools throughout the region. And I would love to have a fast-casual concept or a potentially ghost kitchen to be available for orders from delivery platforms to all individuals”.

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0 comments on “Bhavana Phul, co-owner of Masala Times”

Bhavana Phul, co-owner of Masala Times

Creamy curries, spices and complex flavor pairings. This is what you will find at the extravagant Indian restaurant Masala Times, located in Bleecker St. Owner Hemant Phul and his wife Bhavana are turning New Yorkers on to Mumbai’s best exports: Bollywood and street food. Masala Times is a tribute to everything Bollywood. It is the place for spicy Kebabs and healthy Indian BBQ fares that are very close to those coming out of the tandoor at restaurants around Mumbai.

At Masala Times, you will find an array of barbecue dishes that include baby lamb chops, massive cubes of paneer, and fragrant kebabs of ground chicken that sizzle while you eat it. Their menu also include biryanis, rolls, and pillowy paav bread. A definite must-try is their Tandoori Mushroom – spicy marinated shiitake mushrooms served in a warm, thin roll. If looking something more carnivore, the chicken achari arrives as tangy pieces of charred meat cooked in Indian spices and served with saffron-tinged basmati rice and flatbread fresh off the griddle.

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But Masala Times was born out of an unusual idea. In 2009 Phul owned a nightclub in the Meatpacking area while on the lookout for the right venue to open a pure desi kabab place in the city. He wanted for people to taste his menu first, so he started serving late-night foods in his club. And since we’ve all been in that situation, there is nothing better than indulging and sinking your teeth into some juicy street food after hitting the bar all night. They did this to not only test the food but also to see if there was a true opportunity to create something more than simple late-night snacks. People wanted something more satisfying, and so it couldn’t be clearer to them. In 2010, Masala Times opened its door to the public and serves food Friday and Saturday until 5am. Just your perfect solution when going bar hopping around Greenwich Village!

The opening of the restaurant was a big transition for them as the couple was also going into parenthood. The shift from owning a nightclub to a restaurant was a complete different experience but a good one. “Masala, in Indian cuisine, is a combination of spices that gives our food the flavors that it’s known for. However, in Bollywood lingo, Masala defines the essence of what Hindi movies are all about – Bollywood potboilers with melodrama, fight sequences, song-and-dance. This is our tribute everything Bollywood”.

Interesting enough, Phul graduated with an IT degree but realized at the age of twenty-six it was not exciting at all (shocker!). When he was 13 years old, Phul worked as a busboy and then climbed the ladder to chef and now restaurant consultant. He went through the whole spectrum to obtain as much as experience to teach others what he had never been taught. This is why the food and business part is all handled by him. His wife Bhavana, on the other hand, is a graphic designer who performed all the creative side of the restaurant. From the Bollywood signs, to the color of the walls, to the light decor – everything reflects the quintessential Bollywood ambience.

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Since Masala Times is now on to its 9th year, the owners were able to share the hardest part of the business to control – the staff. To consistently meet customer demand is a very hard task for restaurant managers. They need to train employees to value and offer a level of customer service appropriate to the level of food provided. In addition, they have to deal with distinct learning styles, the continual influx of inexperienced personnel, and the unpredictable amount of customers eating each day. It is extremely important that if you want to remain competitive, managers need to train employees to be just as passionate as they are with the food served so quality is not missed.

If there is consistency, people will come back and be excited to try new menu items. “Fortunately, we have created a community of customers that love our food. Our customers always say to us that even after eating in so many fancy restaurants they keep coming back to us as it transports them to either the streets in India and or to a home-cooked meal”.

Masala Times offers a selection of dishes that vary from Northern India to Kebabs. It is also very contemporary, keeping up to date with the most popular dishes they know not only their Indian clientele will enjoy but also immigrant one. Masala Times has changed the consumer mindset by making us crave Indian food during the latest times of the night instead of a double cheeseburger from McDonalds. Hemant and Bhavana are very enthusiastic about their future with Masala Times and are not afraid of taking more risks. A lesson that many young entrepreneurs are trying to follow…

0 comments on “Natasha Case, CEO and Co-Founder of Coolhaus”

Natasha Case, CEO and Co-Founder of Coolhaus

There are some things in life that makes us feel just so good! Things like jumping in bed after an exhausting day, feeling the sun on your face during a cold winter, or getting an ice cream on a hot summer day… For us, the latter fulfills our feelings the most. Isn’t ice cream the cure for everything? After all, it is cheaper than therapy!

After being criticized for an architectural model that looked like a layered cake, Natasha Case thought to herself “Well, why is that bad!?”. Natasha had the passion for both food and architecture inside of her; she just didn’t know how to put the two together. Food was something she took seriously, as she grew up in a house where having ice cream after dinner was a ritual. So it made sense she evolved her idea into what is now known as “farchitecture” . In 2009, while working at Disney Imagineering, Coolhaus was born “out of the recession to bring awareness to architecture by using something nostalgic and comforting as ice-cream”. She started bringing ice cream sandwiches named after architects like “Mies Vanilla Rohe” and “Frank Behry” to relieve some tension in the office. And after seeing its success, Coolhaus was born from “a triple pun on the name of architect Rem Koolhaas, the Bauhaus movement and the idea that an ice cream sandwich is like a tiny, cold house”.

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Lucky for her, Natasha was introduced at that time to her current business and life partner, Freya Estreller. Freya was in real estate, but also shared the interest in food. After many conversations and finally deciding to take their business to the next level, Coolhaus got its first real job as a food truck vendor at the Coachella Music Festival.  Everything was running smoothly – checked the boxes with giant freezers and enough inventory to sell. But as every startup owner knows, challenges can come up pretty quickly! With as little as $2,700, you can imagine what type of ice cream truck they were able to buy on Craigslist. “We are pretty sure the previous owners were selling drugs out of it. It was a total POS! It didn’t even come with an engine”, said Natasha. So no money, no engine. How DID they manage to get to Coachella? Well, hats down to the creative minds of these two ladies for buying a AAA premier membership to receive a free 200-mile tow all the way to Coachella! Now THAT is some entrepreneurial thinking. And so thanks to their Coachella’s success, an audience was building up in L.A. After expanding their food trucks all the way to New York, Culver City and Pasadena, Coolhaus made its debut in the wholesale industry. They are now also available in more than 6,000 stores like Whole Foods and Safeway and are the biggest women founder and led company, “uniquely taking over the novelty section whereas most of our competitors are playing in the pint space”.

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But it took more than free toll rides and social media to get Coolhaus where it is today. “In the beginning we experienced more age-based bias, where people did not take us seriously. This attitude made those individuals less liable to risk-taking which is necessary to make anything big happen. And by being millennials, we recognized what other millennials actually wanted which gave us a level of authenticity”. Natasha also talked how as a gay woman, it has definitely been a different journey but a positive one.

During the five-year mark, Natasha and Freya worked on the business, not in it. After their tenth year, Coolhaus finally settled as a household brand. And as everyone knows, hard work pays off eventually. As of today, Natasha has done brand partnerships with MeUndies, Bustle, Lexus, and K-Swiss among others. She has been featured as well in media outlets like Cosmo, Bon Appetit, Vice, NPR, Food52, and TV shows like Good Morning America, The list goes on and on…

Without her amazing team, she says, Coolhaus would never be be what it is today. “I value the culture, energy and passion they bring to the company. The fact that they show up every day and dedicate so much of their time helping make this dream a reality is incredibly meaningful. Also thanks to them, I’ve been able to take a step back and focus on my family”.

Natasha and Freya hope that Coolhaus will be the household brand of millennials. “There is an incredible opportunity for us to do that as a culture of women leaders – so to lead and change by example.. that alone is a revolution. To be a powerhouse of women who are behind that brand, who created and are running its vision, that is our true aspiration” – Natasha Case.

Takeaways? Never settle for anything, not even one scoop!

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0 comments on “María Iglesias, founder of Corazon de Mexico”

María Iglesias, founder of Corazon de Mexico

No matter where you are in the country, you will definitely find a Mexican restaurant in any city. According from an analysis made in 2018 by food service firms like CDH Expert, there are over 60,000 Mexican restaurants in the U.S. But that should come as no surprise to any of us. Mexican cuisine has been well-admired throughout the world for its vibrant, authentic and delicious taste. The healthy ingredients, the wonderful aromas of fresh spices, the hot sauces that make you cry, and the deadly margaritas are the perfect combo to be a very popular cuisine.

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From fast-food chains to high-end Michelin star restaurants, one can find any type of Mexican food out there. But one thing is for sure: only those with great quality products and great service survive. And that is why Maria Iglesias along with her daughter and other women employees have been in this business since 2012. Born and raised in beautiful Puebla, Mexico, Chef María brings more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry to bear as owner and the brilliance of family Mexican food recipes passed down through generations of her family to your dining experience. She opened her very first restaurant and bakery called La Adelita in Woodside, NY where she served typical Mexican dishes and pastries like donuts, cemitas and hot beverages. The name is attributed to Adelita, a woman who joined the Mexican Revolution and fought for Mexico’s independence. She was a vital force in the revolutionary war efforts due to her participation in the battles against Mexican armies. Adelita came to be an archetype of a woman warrior in Mexico and a symbol to many of action and inspiration. Even today is her name being used to refer to any woman who struggles and fights for her rights – just like Maria, her daughter and her employees are doing.

Not many details were shared for personal reasons, but Maria and her daughter suffered domestic violence as well. It is because of their past experiences that they feel the urge to help other women who currently face similar situations. “We support women who have been mistreated and abused. We want them to find their inner independency just like we did. Our vision is to build a community where they are not afraid of being independent, rather afraid of being dependent to their partners. We want for these women to have a voice. We want them to know that we are here for them”, said Cynthia. She also mentioned how they want to hire more female personnel but have failed because either their husbands do not want them to work or do not want for them to have a place somewhere else than at home with the children.

“It has not been easy, not going to lie to you”, said Cynthia. La Adelita restaurant had to close their doors because the building they were established in was soon-to-be demolished. This is why the business has now moved to another location in Long Island called Corazon de Mexico. The change of name, as explained by Maria, was because Long Island’s inhabitants are completely different from those in Woodside. The community is built around a more American mentality, rather than a Hispanic one. If people in Long Island would walk by a restaurant called La Adelita, they would have never imagined it was a Mexican place. And it was not until a few months that Corazon de Mexico is now warming people’s hearts. Before that, Maria and Cynthia would receive threatening notes saying “You don’t belong here! Go away!” and other that are not being said.

La Adelita meant so much to these women not only because it was their business, but because it reminded them every day what they have accomplished with their own blood, sweat and tears. And now that exact same ideology is being translated into Corazon de Mexico. These women wake up every day at 4:00am to start unloading the fresh products delivered, start cooking the upcoming orders and then deliver the meals themselves. No matter the time the order was placed, the location of the delivery, or the volume of the meal, these women will get the job done.

These women are committed to exceptional quality and use only natural ingredients and spices that are imported straight from Mexico. The dishes created are fresh and uniquely flavorful, giving diners an opportunity to relish an authentic Mexican dining experience with the best Mexican food in Long Island. The charming Corazon de Mexico is the realization of these women’s determination and passion for not just the culinary arts, but also for other women to know they do not have to be afraid to pursue something of their own. Just like female soldier Adelita did for her beloved Mexico.

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0 comments on “Angela “Nena” Sierra, co-founder of Palenque Colombian Food”

Angela “Nena” Sierra, co-founder of Palenque Colombian Food

Crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside is exactly how a corn patty “arepa” looks like. To give you a better picture, imagine a Mexican corn tortilla but thicker and of course, tastier. Arepas were originated a hundred years ago, contributing to the diet of various indigenous tribes across Venezuela and Colombia. They have now become a dish so popular that any socio-economic group eats them. And just like any sandwich, fillings vary and there are no rules. Colombian entrepreneurs Angela “Nena” Sierra and Viviana Lewis took this statement quite literal and changed the arepa game since day one!

Viviana had been in the food industry way before Angela decided to join her. Angela was working as a film producer in Bogota, Colombia where she flew back and forth for clients between Bogota and NYC. Wanting to take the next step, Angela moved to NYC in 2000 to begin a degree in film production. She involved herself in audiovisual production companies and in local theater. But after her experience in NYC, Angela decided to move back to Colombia and start working in television. Everything was going according to plans until she was badly injured. An elevator had not received maintenance in years and when Angela stepped inside, she slipped through a hole five floors down. “It was a miracle I was alive. It is a blessing I am able to walk right now”.

After the surgery in Colombia, Angela flew to NYC for a second medical procedure in her leg as it was poorly performed. Fast forward to several months later, Viviana came to Angela while she was recovering and mentioned she needed help selling arepas in a fair at Greenpoint. Not surprisingly, the arepas were a huge success! Angela fell in love with the quality of the arepas and saw a huge market potential for them. As she knew the film industry was not something she wanted to continue doing, both Angela and Viviana decided to buy their first food truck in September 2011 and named it Palenque Homemade Colombian Food.

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Besides a new revenue stream, the food truck gave Angela a mental recovery. Being busy all day by having to cook, clean, and move the truck from one corner to the other, Angela did not have the time to think about the pain she was experiencing in her leg. Much less in 2012 were people stepped out of Union Square Q Station for the food truck paradise to fill those hungry stomachs – it was just the perfect street food scenery. Even Daily News, New York Times and TeleMundo shared Palenque’s success in their platforms for this powerful transformation of the traditional Arepa to one with same taste, but greater nutritional value.

Just like pasta, Arepa is sometimes feared because it is a simple carb – mostly starch with little protein/fiber. But the great thing of an arepa is that it adapts to anyone’s needs – precisely Palenque’s mission. Palenque will not sell you the typical Colombian arepa made from just corn flour. These two female entrepreneurs have added a twist of healthy grains such a quinoa, hemp seeds, and flax seeds to the flour for more protein and more crunch! Now you don’t have to think twice before ordering one (or two).

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This step out of the comfort zone by looking into a healthier version of an arepa led them into the road to success. Palenque has expanded from a food truck to now three brick-and-mortars (Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach and RIIS Park Beach), events such as NYC Half Marathon and catering platforms like FoodtoEat. The business is also represented at festivals such as Smorgasburg every Saturday and Sunday. In fact, right after hurricane Sandy the NYC Mayor office asked Palenque to provide arepas to those people who had suffered the catastrophe at Rockaway.

So as you can see, these two female founders have taught us several lessons worth mentioning. First, you can build a business that is different from any careers or degrees pursued before. Second, you do not have to come up with a brand new product/service in order to be successful. You just need to find the faults of an existing one and fix them. Third, to make a difference in the world you need to dream big and work your butt off. And last but not least, Palenque has become a staple in NYC because it is run by two immigrant women. These women’s backgrounds, experiences and way of thinking has made it possible for us New Yorkers to get a taste of a dish served hundreds of miles away.

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0 comments on “Christine Chebli, Co-Founder of Toum”

Christine Chebli, Co-Founder of Toum

Do you know what exactly Lebanese food is? Would you be able to distinguish a Greek Gyro with a Lebanese Shawarma? I certainly could not and know most people couldn’t either. There is ignorance on the different types of foods each Middle Eastern country has, putting them all under the same umbrella. But people like Christine, co-founder of Lebanese restaurant Toum, is trying to change that. “We are still teaching New Yorkers, who know all about food, really what Lebanese food is. They come and they say: Oh, I’ll have a gyro and what we serve is nothing similar to a gyro. So educating a customer is always challenging “.

But in order to educate consumers about Lebanese food, it needs to be served! Christine and her husband Rodrigue noticed there weren’t many Lebanese restaurants that cook good, authentic Lebanese food and decided to take a chance on what they’ve been cooking for many years. Rodrigue had been in the food industry since he could walk, and always dreamt about opening a Lebanese restaurant in NY. And Christine, on the other hand, had a financial background. She worked as an investment banker for eleven years before deciding to fully commit to the food industry. And after many thoughts given, Christine and Rodrigue opened the first Lebanese food truck in NYC in July 2012!

But let’s rewind a few years before that opening. Prior to their truck, Christine and Rodrigue launched a food booth in a friend’s open space in a festival in Little Eataly. They wanted to test the waters first, see if people would come and buy some of their food. At one point, Rodrigue decided to serve himself lunch and started creating a Lebanese style burger – a fine chopped beef with spices, onions and parsley. “He spread it on bread and grilled it, and while he was grilling it someone came up and said: “Ooh, what is that!? I want whatever he is preparing!” And it was love at first bite. Then one person after the other were asking for this burger that wasn’t even part of our menu!”.  After seeing many customers line up, it was official that a food truck was happening.

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Food trucks are part of the American landscape, with coffee carts and hot dog stands representing the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit. Food trucks are a great way to enter and test a market, without blowing a huge amount of capital. But while this concept may seem appealing to many people, the venture comes with a list of challenges specifically in the NYC area. Apparently, government officials in NY make it so much harder for food trucks to strive than in any other states like Florida, Denver and Atlanta. “The city is against you. You’re not allowed to park anywhere, you’ll get a ticket for parking every time, you’re not allowed to vend, and you’re not allowed to serve from a metered spot where all spots in Manhattan are metered. And say you paid the meter because you are commercial vehicle and served lunch. You now get two tickets: one for parking on a meter and one for vending. It is really hard”, says Christine. For food truck owners, this is part of their day-to-day. It is seen as their daily rent. Drivers even get their parking spots at 3:00am just to vend lunch from 11:00am to 3:00pm. And sometimes after staying up those long hours cops can come at noon, middle of the lunch rush hour, and tell you to leave. “If you are shut down at that time, you’re not finding a spot anywhere else in the city. You have traffic, you have food waste, you have staff that needs to get paid anyways and you just lost an entire day!”. It is frustrating given that it is not about the money, but the principle. Truck owners are doing nothing wrong, just selling food to hungry customers. They are not parking in front of a restaurant, or taking business from someone else. So if everyone is happy, why punish them? We rely on food trucks to nourish us at music festivals, cater our graduations and engagement parties and most importantly, broaden our lunch horizons. These truck owners continue to expose an “unaware group of eaters to new culinary opportunities”.

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Fast-forward to 2012 – a buzz kicked in when people would take lunch breaks and immediately follow the line of hungry customers waiting for their flavorful Shawarma. The quality and consistency of Toum is what kept customers happy and made them come back. The food, as Christine mentioned, was served as if it was for their kids. “If my kids wouldn’t eat it, then I will not serve it. We make sure the customer gets the same quality every time he/she orders from us. We never use lower quality product, even if it affects our margins. We are more concerned with the quality to make sure the taste is great with every order. The margins hurt, but the food truck must keep going”.

People started asking about corporate catering, weddings, events, birthday parties and more. “Lebanese food is not something you can find in every corner like Italian or Mexican food. After people coming to us and tasting our food, they asked about catering and that is when we started engaging with catering platforms like FoodtoEat. Never reducing its quality, Toum was taken to the next level. Ask anyone who runs a food truck what their ultimate goal is and most will tell you that it’s their dream to one day turn the truck into a full-fledged, brick-and-mortar restaurant. And so Christine quit the corporate America job to nurture “this baby full-time”. Having a food enthusiast and a business professional gave a lot of potential for Toum to follow the right direction to be a successful restaurant. It was the perfect combination to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The food side is all handled by Rodrigue and the business operations, development, marketing, social media and other non-food related decisions is Christine.

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They gave themselves a two year timeline to decide if they would continue working for Toum or if it was something they wanted to keep as a side job and go back into the corporate world. Fortunately, Toum Restaurant has been growing at a steady rate and continues to do so. As of now, training and having people visualize Toum as a restaurant instead of a food truck is the biggest challenge for both Christine and Rodrigue. “I would like for people to know that we’ve transitioned from a truck to a restaurant. But we are hoping that our social media push and marketing campaign is going to help do that. But also training is hard because people are set in their own ways and you can’t blame them. So allowing people to do things in their own technique but tweak to work for us is certainly our goal”.

It is really amazing to have a dream and see it come to life in your own hands. Your own blood, sweat and tears. “It was never my passion to be in the food industry; it was mostly Rodrigue. And I believed so much in his dream that I was sure it was going to turn out positively. When he creates food, he does it with such passion and so beautiful that everyone wants to eat. It just had to work”. Not having many Lebanese restaurants in NYC, it is a motivation for this power couple to continue showcasing their food that comes from their own hands, their own recipes. “Seeing the amazing feedback and the potential for the bigger picture is all the motivation we need. For me, I feel like we made it. Now, it’s only about consistency and further growth”.

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Janie Deegan, Founder of Janie’s Life-Changing Baked Goods

In the realm of desserts, cookies and pies will always be at the top of the list. Imagine both of them combined into one type of dessert… Now THAT is a mouthwatering thought. Good news for you, it can be! After many trials and errors creating cookies, cakes, and pies in her home kitchen, Janie Deegan (founder of Janie’s Life-Changing Baked Goods)  created something special: her famous Pecan Pie Crust Cookie.

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But before we go into the details of this delicious cookie, Janie’s story needs to be heard. In her early 20’s, Janie was an alcoholic and an addict. Her addiction eventually lead her to being homeless and isolated, with no communication between Janie and her family and friends. Her life was at a standstill, and close relatives started to feel helpless after telling her multiple times to get sober. It was a dark time for Janie, who says that her problems with addiction had been building for years, due to her inability to deal with stress and anxiety. . But when Janie turned 25, something inside of her changed. She started to crave the desire to turn her life and to become sober one day at a time.

Janie found a job as a superintendent in a building in the East village where was taking people’s garbage out but “living life!”. She started to realize that she wanted to develop skills of her own and pursue a career. One thing was crystal clear to her though: in order to deal with her anxiety and stress as well as continue to combat her addiction, she needed to have control over the results in what she did. And that is why baking was perfect for her! She baked a lot of cakes as a child with her mom, so she knew she was good at it. And it turns out that baking is more than creating something sweet. Baking is accompanied with a broad amount of psychological benefits. Baking for Janie, and for many others, allows her to cope with stress, to express her love, to communicate better with others, and to give back to those who always loved and supported her. Baking gives Janie control in her life as well. It is a step-by-step process, always (well, most of the times) following the same metrics. If you put the right amount of sugar, butter and flour, you will always create that perfect cookie.

Years of gaps in her resume and very few work experiences were no excuse for Janie to not start taking her life back. “I mean, I wish I could put my sobriety on a resume because what I’ve learned from not drinking has totally changed my life. It is crazy for me to think of the person I was at 25 – always scared, meek, filled with fear and no concept of self love. What I have developed in the past six years is all about strength, courage and learning to follow through. I have found the real me – not the better me, not the worse me but the real me. And that is a huge blessing”.

Taking a leap of faith, Janie made her first investment in herself and purchased her very first $25 mixer. She started baking pies and cakes, the sweets that brought her the most joy as a child, and she would bring them to friends’ dinners and parties since it was all she could afford to offer. But people would immediately ask her where she bought these delicious treats! And they always kept asking for more. It was because of these friends and family that supported her that Janie started regaining her self-confidence and pride in her work that had been lost for many years.

“I was definitely scared to start since I did not go to culinary school. I would keep thinking: Who am I to think that I could be a business woman?! But it’s funny because whenever I think about what type of career I want, I always tell myself: one where I am able to work out in the middle of the day or grab lunch with a friend. But so you hear this word “entrepreneur” and it freaks you out because it is such a big word. But I’ve come to realize that if you are doing something you love, then you are already an entrepreneur”.

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And so right before turning 30, Janie decided to fully focus on growing her business. She stopped working as a superintendent and as a nanny, and committed to her dream of being an entrepreneur. Since she needed financial help, Janie applied for the Pepsi’s “Stacy’s Rise Project” and won the grant because of her story. This program was specifically focused on elevating women in the food industry through an entrepreneurship program – and that is exactly what happened. For the past two years it has been a nonstop mission for Janie to be completely genuine and dedicated with what she is doing. She wants her story to reach as many people to encourage those who have struggled with an addiction or those who lack the courage to build a business due to self-esteem. “I think that is why people keep asking for more. I mean, the cookies are great but people really relate on a personal level with what I am doing. You need to find something that sets you apart from the others; that is how you succeed”.

As for what the future holds, Janie wants to continue doing corporate catering and selling at local markets but is looking to switch her products to consumer packaged goods to reach a wider audience. She knows that it will definitely get more challenging as the business grows since she is the chef, the sales person, the PR person, and everything in between. “It is hard to keep the business alive while trying to grow it. Seeing me on my Quickbooks is like pulling hair!” But New York City is the city to be when seeking business resources. There are so many programs for small businesses and people to connect with and Janie has found a lot of support in this community. The food industry, surprisingly enough, is very nurturing of each other – especially among female-owned businesses.

Past experiences have led Janie to value what is important for her, what her goals in life are and what it takes to pursue them. She intends to be a second chance employer, and work specifically with homeless shelter and halfway houses to be a resource for a community that she was once a part of. Janie is the perfect example that you do not need to have a particular degree to pursue a dream or discourage yourself if going through a rough time. Dedication, passion, and a genuine mission will get you far ahead of the game.

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0 comments on “Manal Kahi, Co-Founder of Eat Offbeat”

Manal Kahi, Co-Founder of Eat Offbeat

Imagine hummus in 2013. Can’t remember? We can tell you – it was not good.

Lebanese Manal Kahi had the exact same thought when coming to the U.S. for her master’s degree in International Affairs. She was surprised by how popular the dip was and even more surprised when people said how great it tasted. As popular as these brands were, pre-packaged foods never taste as good as if you cook it yourself. And for Manal, it was common to have great quality products since she grew up with an orchard outside her home that was filled with tomatoes, lemons, parsley and other vegetables. Having all of these fresh ingredients, it was impossible for there to be pre-packaged hummus or tabbouleh on her family’s dinner table.

So when she decided that she didn’t want to continue eating supermarket hummus anymore, Manal started making her own and bringing it to her friends’ parties and events. After so many compliments and requests, Manal knew there was a gap in the market for hummus that she could fill. When thinking  “who can bring really good hummus to the U.S.!?”, it was a no-brainer for both Manal and her brother, who grew up in a family that created it fresh every day and whose recipe was passed down through generations.

At the same time, the Syrian refugee crisis was continuing to worsen, and many refugees were searching for a better life in the U.S. Manal herself had to leave Lebanon because of the intense turmoil and living in the U.S., she felt powerless watching the devastation in her country. She wanted to help her people but wasn’t sure how to do that across the world. After thinking about the crisis non-stop, Manal connected the dots and found a way to be useful to those who were suffering in the midst of the crisis. She contacted the International Rescue Committee, an agency that helps refugees resettle and find housing, employment, childcare and education. Her initial idea was to solely hire Syrian refugees to make hummus and other kind of authentic Middle Eastern meals. But she quickly found out that hummus in the U.S. was a market that was completely over-saturated and very competitive price-wise. And after seeing so much potential and diversity in the refugees, Manal decided to expand her idea. She started to create a community that would open it’s doors for refugees that came to NYC looking for a job and allow them to create the dishes authentic to their culture. Now, refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Guinea replicate the meals that they cooked back home and deliver them to hungry New Yorkers. That is how Eat Offbeat started in 2015.

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Eat Offbeat is a social impact catering company that serves authentic meals made by talented refugees. They cater office lunches, happy hours, private parties and large conferences. The company’s goals are to introduce New Yorkers to real, authentic food products, to build bridges between those eating the food and the refugees who make it, and to flip the narrative to what it means to be a refugee. Most importantly, they focus on erasing the negative connotation around the word “refugee” and educating customers about the human beings behind the food at Eat Offbeat. Because of these refugees, Eat Offbeat is still able to be in business. The refugees themselves are the ones who come up with the recipes, and then are trained over a four to five month period in order to have the recipes standardized and scaled to feed larger groups of people for catering. Over 40 refugee chefs have been trained since Eat Offbeat began by exceptional people like Chef Juan, a Michelin star chef who works with Manal and her team to give each chef the kitchen skills needed to produce their dishes on a daily basis. In addition, these refugees take a lot of pride in their work. All of the dishes served include a small description and a picture of the chef who prepared it. It is part of the company’s mission to ensure that the refugees are being represented and are part of the consumer’s experience. Any dish served is served as a dish from a particular refugee, not the company itself. Giving the chef ownership of their dish restores dignity for an individual that has lost everything and has to start over again in a country separated from their family and friends.

But as in any business, challenges arise. When asked, Manal said her two biggest challenges are the margins on food being too low, and the perception of being a non-profit organization. From an investor’s point of view, Eat Offbeat is sometimes seen as a business that is less aggressive or less profitable because of having refugees as employees and being looked as a non-profit. From a customer’s point of view, the initial thought is usually “Oh, it’s a cute non-profit that supports refugees. They probably are too small to cater for us” (Manal). Manal finds that many customer assume they are a non-profit and can provide free food or discounted food for events or meals. However, she runs a business just like any other restaurant, so changing the way consumers see them is something her team is working on. However, Manal believes that despite these challenges, the impact the business has on the refugees they employ is worth the struggle. “All the effort, all the trouble and all the challenges are worth at the end of the day. Knowing customers are trying something completely new and exotic, and that they are happy motivates our chefs. They are kind of taking a step off the beaten path, and trying to be more open minded to where food comes from; connecting with our team, with immigrants and their status” (Manal).

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An open mind brings more opportunities. This is how Manal wants consumers to start thinking when connecting with her business. It is very important for her to build a personal connection between Eat Offbeat’s mission and the customers that order from them. Manal says, “for me, we have achieved our mission if someone tries chef Nazreen’s chicken and goes crazy for it, automatically associating Iran with that dish, rather than anything else they may have heard about Iran or what they think about Iran’s problems. So instead, when they think about Iran, they will think about Nazreen and how amazing the flavors of the chicken were. And how lovely Nazreen is, rather than any preconceived notions they may have had about the country” (Manal). Human connection beyond food is what many food businesses strive to have. These refugees learned in the kitchen with their mothers and grandmothers while most of us find inspiration through blogs and websites. Consumers today don’t have the personal connection that they once had with food, mainly because of the digital era we are in. It’s very rare to have a connection with the people that produce our food but that’s what Eat Offbeat is hoping to change. Manal wants to reconnect people with food and let them know more about who cooked the food arrives on their plates.

Eat Offbeat is a company where they shed light the skills of their refugees, rather than what their status represents. They are refugees by status, but chefs by nature.

 

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