I arrived to NYC two weeks prior to 9/11 with a determination to be on Wall Street, however, to survive, I worked in restaurants as a waiter and in kitchens in many NYC restaurants. That experience allowed to understand the power of food, not just in terms of food itself, but also on the importance of food security and the challenges restaurants face to stay open. Eventually, I didn’t end up as a banker, and launched my resturant Mazeish on the Lower East Side with two close friends. I used my space to create dinner experiences that brought people together to bring exposure to the business. Eventually, other restaurants asked me help them and recreate this model. Thus komeeda was born. However, given that social impact is at the core of our company DNA, we created dinner series to address hot topics. An example is the world renowned Displaced Kitchens, which allowed refugees to cook, share their stories, earn a living and escape poverty. The dinner series pop up went acrosss the country and lifted families out of poverty, and now it’s beinh replicated through Gastrodiplomacy efforts in Turkey and Sweden.
My mission to drive inclusion and bring to light important hot topics by using food as an access point. One of the ways to bring people together and learn about each is through food experiences, which is why I cofounded Komeeda. A platform for food experiences that brings chefs, Resturans and food brands to wider audience through curated food experiences
My Daily Thoughts:
Goal of the Day: to complete all the tasks at hand and start a new one for the next day
Thought of the Day: are the decisions we are making as a team today good and helpful for everyone involved
Action of the Day: be efficient and kind
Deed of the Day: always be inclusive of all voices in the room
Tip of the Day: make it nice or make it twice, especially when making food
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
New York City is the hub of all immigrants who are all making their American Dream a reality despite the hardships. I love going on the 7 train and taking friends and special guests on food tours and feeding them food from all the over the world in queens
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
Breakfast: two scrambelled eggs over labne on pita bread with a coffee
ilili is my most favorite resturant, hands down the best Lebanese restaurant in the world
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – still sleeping. I finish work at 1 am sometimes 2
10:00 AM – meditating for 20 minutes then breakfast, respond to emails and then going into the kitchen or meetings
12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
Test meals at our kitchen by our chef trainees and guest chefs
7:00 PM – still in meetings or hosting events or checking out a new Komeeda experience by a chef or restaurant host
11:00 PM – usually still in the kitchen or the event, I wrap up early then I make way to queens to sit, have a tea, and read a book at my favorite middle eastern cafe.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
Lots of water, coffee 2 cups and tea 2 cups
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Slack is most used and then my personal fitness pal to track what I am eating
Fav IG account is : Humans Of New York and Korsha Wilson’s account, food writer and blogger
What should everyone try at least once?
Food of all kind. Always say yes to new cusines, to quote Bourdain “ your body is not a temple it’s a roller coaster ride, enjoy the ride”
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
New cities I visit, especially in South America
My Native AdVice:
How did you get into the industry?
It happened by accident. I got into the industry as a waiter to make ends meet, but then accepting what I am doing, not being above it and being the best at waiting tables and furthering my learning in cooking allowed me to enter the industry as an entrepreneur. But working with immigrants in kitchens allowed me to learn about other cultures and be accepting and always saying yes to new things. Always show up, even if you don’t feel like it, and do your best. The rest will come
Career advice to those in your industry?
Control your ego and always be an active listener. The best advice might come from the most different voice in the room. The waiter will know the customer more than the manager and the manager will know the system better than the kitchen and the kitchen will know the food and the process more than front of house staff. Always listen, take your ego out, be kind and make the right decision to benefit the team and the organization. Team first!
Any emerging industry trends?
Plant based food is taking over 2019 even at high end restaurants, also fast food is using more fresh ingredients and the best part is that cusines of people of color is becoming a major trend such as halal meat or Latino food
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
To walk away from our komeeda experiences learning something new about the food or the chef or cuisine of a people. Also meeting new strangers that share your palet and be more inclusive and engaged off line
How do you motivate others?
We work with many culinary staff that come from humble economic backgrounds, one way i motivate them is by telling them, they are good enough, their opinion matter, their talent matter and they deserve to be here. I always tell them there are no miracles here, hard work, and grit will get them to fulfill their dreams and they must grow confident after every event they compelte and I prove it by the customer reviews. If reviews are not good, we sit down and fix the problem and keep going till we get it right as a team.
My Native AdVantage:
What are my aspirations?
Personal: to create something I am proud of that that can help empower others. Palestine and the solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict matter greatly to me given I am Palestinian and I like to dedicate more resources, financial and otherwise to bring both parties together and engage one another as one people. It’s a very challenging, but dark times such as the ones we face recently with islamophbia and xenophobia against Jews and Muslims has allowed me to bring both communities and talk about how they can be one front to fight against the hate and racism.
Business: I hope komeeda becomes the number 1 destination for all people to go out and enjoy dining beyond just reserving a table or buying a ticket. Although most of our experiences are NOT for social impact, the impact the diners walk away with, such as meeting someone new or eating something new has also helped empower the chefs and restaurants financially and socially to continue their craft and grow.
My Biggest Success? Overcoming my own self doubts and growing my confidence. Coming from Palestine, from a humble background without access to resources or an ivy education, the biggest success was accepting myself for who I am. If I am a waiter, I should strive to be the best waiter, if I am a cook, I strive to make the best meal possible for the guest, and if I am an entrepreneur, I strive to be always learning and growing my confidence to lead my team, deliver the best possible product and solution. This thinking process allowed me to overcome depression and a create a company out of the basement of a resturant that only can fit 10 people
My Most Challenging Moment?
Firing people, sometimes difficult decisions for the growth of the business happens when the right talent or needs are not matched. It’s always challenging to let someone go, they need the income, so I do it with respect and I explain why this decision happened and it’s always after a lengthy process to make the problem work.
“Stand of the edge of the dream and fight.” This is a verse from a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud darwish who embodied the voice of my people. Always go for what you want. Nothing it’s too scary or impossible.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Jose Andreas, Anthony Bourdain And Gordon Ramsey. The three above are culinary masters that perfected their craft and brought story telling and social impact in their fields
Robert McNamara and Churchill: because they are able to manage crisis and failures on back to back basis with steady head and enthusiasm and a believe that they will cover come
The migrant worker: because they emody the American Dream. Going through hardships and endure challenges to provide for their families and service us
What Else to Know?
Articles about komeeda and personal work here