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How is a catering company giving refugees a fresh start?

For Manal Kahi ’15SIPA, it all began with hummus. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

Kahi, a Lebanese environmental consultant and the cofounder of Eat Offbeat, a catering company that hires refugees as cooks, says that three years ago, when she moved to New York to start a master’s program at Columbia, she couldn’t find good hummus—at least none like her Syrian grandmother’s.

So Kahi borrowed the family recipe and started to make big batches, sharing it with family and friends. It was such a hit that her entrepreneurial brother Wissam Kahi ’04BUS decided it was good enough to sell. With the help of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at the Columbia Business School, the siblings got started.

“At first it was just going to be a hummus company,” Manal Kahi says. “But this was 2013, the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. We wanted to figure out a way to help from New York.” Then it dawned on the Kahi siblings that they could have Syrian refugees make the hummus. “The idea got bigger from there,” Manal Kahi says.

With the help of the International Rescue Committee, the Kahis began to identify and recruit refugees who are also excellent home cooks. The chefs—from Nepal, Iraq, Eritrea, and Syria—work with Eat Offbeat chief culinary officer Juan Suarez de Lezo to adapt their recipes for a professional kitchen. Based in Queens, Eat Offbeat caters a variety of events, from dinner parties and office lunches to corporate retreats.

“It’s really a win-win-win,” Manal Kahi says. “These are people who desperately need jobs, and that’s at the forefront of our mission. But we’re also able to introduce people to new, exciting dishes. And we’re helping to change the narrative around refugees. They shouldn’t be seen as a potential burden but as a rich cultural asset.” Learn more.

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