Meet and Love: Manal Kahi
1. First, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I am the co-founder and CEO at Eat Offbeat, a catering company that delivers authentic meals entirely conceived, prepared and delivered by refugees who now call New York City home. Our goal is to create quality jobs for talented home cooks who are refugees by status, chefs by nature; introduce New Yorkers to new and off-the-beaten-path cuisines from around the world; and ultimately change the narrative around refugees and immigrants by showcasing a different and more positive story.
2. What was your biggest inspiration for starting Eat Offbeat?
My biggest inspiration (or non-inspiration, really) was the hummus I found on supermarket shelves when I moved to NYC. I had moved here as a graduate student and was surprised by how popular hummus was, but disappointed by the quality of the product being sold in grocery stores, so I started making my own, based on my grandmother’s recipe. As that recipe became successful (anecdotally, among friends around me), my brother and I realized there was a market opportunity there. I started thinking of who could bring really good hummus to New York. Given the context (midst of the refugee crisis in the Middle East + my grandmother who was actually from Aleppo, Syria), I thought of Syrian refugees being resettled in NY at the time. From then on, we decided to make it more global, and discover all those other recipes that, just like hummus, are delicious and taste so much better when made by someone who knows how they really taste and feel. Today we serve our chefs' authentic dishes at small and large corporate or private events around NYC.
3. What is your favorite part about being your own boss?
There are no rules I have to abide by - I get to choose where we go next!
4. What is the most challenging aspect of being your own boss?
Work never stops, and when you really get stuck there's no one else you can rely on to make a decision.
5. Please take us through an average day in the life of Manal Kahi.
My day typically starts with a 30- to 40-minute snooze battle with my phone alarm. I then check my emails and answer the most urgent ones before getting up. After a good breakfast and a homemade cappuccino. I head to the kitchen/office where I typically start my day answering emails and prioritizing the day. Around 1 p.m. we get called by the kitchen team for lunch; a typical family meal will include some leftover food and a new dish that one of the chefs wants us all to try. Afternoons tend to go by fast with back-to-back calls and meetings. I tend to leave the office late as I am most productive in the evening. When I leave early enough I try to catch a yoga class - or go for a swim at the McCarren park pool!
6. What are your everyday essentials for when you're on-the-go?
I often have a hair net on me (not that I ever need it outside of our kitchen, but they somehow always end up in my bag!). Otherwise, I tend to keep a small piece of chocolate or nuts for when I skip a meal and need the energy in between meetings.
7. Your company champions refugees and offers them a space where they can thrive and shine. What obstacles have you had to overcome when building your business in the current social climate and how have you overcome them?
We have always felt an overwhelming sense of support from the community in NYC. The challenges we face are mostly typical startup challenges such as access to finance, solving logistics, growing a team, etc... the only challenges specific to our model is perception, as we sometimes get perceived as a non-profit or as a social business that is less aggressive or business-savvy than our competitors. We're on a mission to prove that wrong!
8. The people you work with seem truly inspiring. How do you go about finding the chefs you bring onto your team?
We have a key partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is one of the main resettlement agencies in the US. They help connect us with the chefs!
9. If you had to choose the last meal you would ever eat, what would you choose to eat?
My grandmother's stuffed grape leaves.
10. Lastly, what does "Love Squad" mean to you?
Inner bosses uniting!