Two days after arriving in the US, Madeleine Kabena found herself in an emergency room with her five-year-old daughter, Aline. Despite how it sounds, this was exactly why Madeleine and her family applied for the Diversity Visa lottery that allowed them to immigrate. They came here to find treatment for Aline, who was born with a genetic disorder. Although her health problem doesn’t have a cure, regular treatments can vastly improve both symptoms and outlook. At home in the Congo, treatment was limited and the threat of malaria loomed daily. [caption id="attachment_1737" align="alignright" width="225"] Madeleine's daughter[/caption] While Madeleine brought her family here so her daughter could have a better life, it hasn’t all been easy. At first, it was a high to be in the United States but then reality began to sink in. There were the usual things, like learning a new language, but also some deeper issues. Food at the hospital was not good and she wasn’t finding traditional foods in her neighborhood. In the Congo, there are more than 200 cultures and what connects them all is the belief in good food. It is even thought that some disease can be healed through a healthy and nourishing diet. In fact, this is what Madeleine believes allowed her daughter to survive so long without regular treatments.
[caption id="attachment_1744" align="alignleft" width="169"] Madeleine with her daughter[/caption] By searching for culturally appropriate foods, Madeleine discovered a distinct lack of Congolese shops, restaurants, or even organizations in King County. In all her asking around for connections to food, she eventually met a Congolese man who called himself a ‘Community Food Advocate.’ Madeleine was intrigued and hopeful. Over the first few years in the US, she worked as a caregiver at Wesley Homes. Her first profession was as a lawyer but her degree didn’t permit her to practice in the US. Becoming an advocate with FIN allowed her to represent people again while also building food connections for her community.
“Luckily I found that Chinese and Hispanic produce is very similar to Congolese. I shop there for vegetables like cassava, okra, and greens.”
Madeleine’s hopes for the Congolese community in King County are the same as her hopes for her own family. In her own words... “I want people to have the best chance at life. And for us, that starts with things like healthcare and jobs but always ends with food and family.”
“Unlike what I see in the Latino and Somali communities, the Congolese community here is small and very spread out. We sometimes struggle to connect with each other.”
Startup Q&A: Swahili Food Seattle
Q: Tell us about your business?I cater East African food across King County communities. I cater small occasions, birthdays, graduations, small parties and individual meal orders. The African community loves my food because it meets their cultural appetite and is affordable. I’ve found there is a lot of interest in Kenyan cuisine outside the African community as well and I always enjoy meeting people who want to try African foods.
Q: How did you get the idea for your business? What inspired you to start this business?I saw that many Kenyans were getting very busy and did not have time to cook traditional meals. I worked in the food industry back in Kenya and have always loved to cook, I realized I could fill that need. I was number four in a family of twelve, I started cooking at a young age and everyone in my family loved my food. When I came to America, I saw that many Kenyans were busy and did not have time to cook traditional meals. The idea to start a catering business came very easily to me and I did not enjoy any other kind of job when I came to America. When I talked to family and people who knew me back in Kenya, they would always tell me I needed to start a Kenyan food business.
Q: What makes you different from other types of African restaurants and caterers?[caption id="attachment_1658" align="alignright" width="300"] Chapati, Samosas, and Goat Stew[/caption] My recipes are based on traditional Kenyan dishes but I improvise changes that give them a local Seattle flavor as well. I learned to cook from generations of family traditions and have carried these traditions with me to America. My cooking is made from organic produce and fresh spices from Africa’s spice capital of Zanzibar – you will not be able to have only one taste. I also cater to special needs and my clients’ timeline – responding to calls and making deliveries outside normal business hours
Q: What do you like best about your work?Flexibility, the joy of seeing people appreciate my food and services, I enjoy interacting with people and sharing the experience and food from my culture. It is always fun to meet people who have visited Kenya and for those who can’t make it all the way to Africa, I am pleased to bring my culture to them.
Q: What is your business’ biggest challenge?I am trying to grow my business so I can have my own commercial kitchen. I don’t want to run a restaurant but instead to provide catering services and supply local restaurants and grocery stores with fresh Kenyan food. In order to do this, I need capital to buy equipment and, eventually rent a large space to work from. I am challenged by financial resources to grow my business, hire staff, and expand my business ideas. For now, I am focusing on building my catering business and marketing to new customers.
Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you or your business?That I never went to school to learn cooking skills, they can’t understand how I taught myself to cook such tasty food.
Q: What types of services or programs have been helpful?I’m telling you, I learned something I could not have imagined with I joined FIN. I knew that I could own a business but not necessarily how to do it. For instance, I learned how to operate in a commercial kitchen and how to scale recipes for large orders. Before this I cooked by feel and taste but I needed to learn how to measure and create consistency between dishes. My next adventure will be to improve my marketing skills. [caption id="attachment_1663" align="alignleft" width="288"] Benson cooking from the FIN booth at the Federal Way Farmers Market[/caption] Q: What would you say to other small food business owners thinking of working with FIN? That FIN is the ultimate program for people like me with a passion for food business. I would encourage other immigrants to join FIN and be intentional about taking the advantage of available resources, FIN has resources that can meet their every food business need, their financial support is very practical, I can’t believe they paid my public health permit, there is nowhere else you can find this kind of support, FIN has treated me like a parent treats and cares about a child, it is a unique program if you are committed to the process. I would encourage them to be very persistent to the process.
Connect with Benson to make an order or volunteer.
P.S. Benson would love help with creating marketing materials.
We just finished FIN's 2nd community kitchen event at the SeaTac community center. I was excited because it was open to the whole community and many people showed up from the City of SeaTac and Highline College. It was such a great experience to work with new people in the kitchen. I think everyone enjoyed the food and were happy about this event - the most important thing is that people walked out with new friends and new ideas. A big THANK YOU to everyone that helped out. We couldn’t do it with our wonderful advocates; Gladis, Lidia, Muslima, Zozan and myself. Thank you for sharing dishes from your countries. We are also thankful to all the volunteers, Seth Schromen- Wawrin, Colleen Brandt- Schluter and Erika Martinez we couldn’t do with our help in the kitchen. Brian Tomisser and So Won Kim for organizing event and welcoming guests. If you missed this community kitchen, stay tuned for the next one coming in Fall 2017! Sheelan Shamdeen June, 15,2017
Last Saturday, FIN advocates, along with other partners, attended the YMCA's Healthy Kids Day and hosted a cooking station to demonstrate to kids and parents how fun and easy it is to eat healthy food. Here's what Gladis had to say about the experience: "It was a great experience for me to participate in the Healthy kids event at Matt Griffin YMCA. It was the first time that I have the opportunity to teach hands on how to make guacamole, which is a food that represents my culture and it is also a healthy dip made from vegetables.I really enjoy knowing that a healthy recipe can make a difference in somebody's life, especially with children and since this event was family friendly, many families could taste and learn from scratch how to make this food.I am very thankful to FIN for give me the chance to connect with the community through food." - Gladis Clemente [gallery ids="1449,1450,1451,1452,1453" orderby="rand"]
One thing Zozan’s family has taught her is not to be afraid. But as a refugee, she hasn’t always been able to freely go after her dreams – even after making it to the US. Her family came this country as refugees from Iraq when Zozan was in middle school. By high school she dreamed about becoming a pediatrician and was on track to receive her green card and enter college. [caption id="attachment_1430" align="alignright" width="300"] Zozan with fellow advocates.[/caption] A clerical error over a date in her documentation caused all of that to be put on hold. She spent the next five years in legal limbo – all documentation had been revoked. And while her siblings all received citizenship, she was working with an immigration lawyer. Deportation loomed as an ever-present threat. Immigration officials told her not to worry, that in the event of deportation she would receive $200 and a plane ticket to Baghdad. As if a small amount of cash and a plane ticket to an unfamiliar city felt reassuring. In the end, she was approved for a green card with the condition that she would never visit the middle east. During this process, Zozan learned the power of helping people gain a voice. Just hearing other people’s stories and volunteering allowed her to forget her own problems for a short time. She found herself providing language support to newcomers and soon after became a medical interpreter. [caption id="attachment_1441" align="alignleft" width="300"] Zozan with her sisters.[/caption] While she still thinks about going back to school, her dreams now are a little different that they were in high school. Instead of children, she is now more focused on supports for refugee parents. Kids learn faster than their parents and are the focus of a lot of support already. Zozan believes parents need a lot of extra support in cultural and language barriers. For now, she does this through medical interpreting and as an assistant teacher in the ESL department at Highline College. “If someone needs help and I can do it, I will be there. If I can’t do it, I will try.” In her spare time, Zozan runs a catering company with her sister and advocates for food system change in South King County. Becoming a FIN Food Advocate was a natural fit because she is passionate about helping people see their options and keep moving toward the future. She and her sister have also received training and help in their business through FIN. “You get and you give,” she says, “it’s a circle that way.” She asks us all to be open to possibility, if you don’t try new things and ask for help you will never get what you want.
Startup Q&A: Soozveen Catering
Sheelan Shamdeen, FIN Program AssistantSheelan Shamdeen, a Kurdish-Iraqi refugee, began working with FIN as a graduate of Project Feast’s Apprenticeship Program. Also a client of StartZone at Highline College, she and her sister found support in planning their own Iraqi catering company - Soozveen. But catering is only a small part of her story. In fact, Sheelan looks at their catering company as tool to bridge her two identities as a Kursdish-Iraqi refugee and an American citizen – food is a platform for dialogue she says. “We had 24 hours to leave and weren’t sure where we were going.” Sheelan and her family fled Iraq in 1996 when Saddam Hussein announced anyone associated with the UN would be publicly hanged. They, along with countless others, spent 3 nights under a tent with no passports - their only keepsake from home a teddy bear her sister had saved. Although they were safe once they reached Turkey, they had a long unknown journey ahead of them. Arriving in Guam, many families squeezed into tight living quarters for months while official paperwork was filed to enter the US with green cards. Twenty years later Sheelan, her mother, and seven siblings are all US citizens. Many of those years have been spent teaching English to other immigrants and refugees at Highline College. Although she remembers every detail of her life in Iraq, she also embraces American culture and encourages newcomers to do the same. “Many refugees feel this is only temporary – that this is not their home. But this is the place that helped my family survive and I believe I have two homes now.” To her, she is truly accepted in America as a human being - not a Muslim or an Iraqi but as a person. Despite the things sometimes said in media and politics, she feels like she belongs here. Sheelan doesn’t want any immigrant to lose their language or culture but believes it is important to also feel at home here. In America it is possible to celebrate both patriotism and cultural diversity in the same breath. Sharing Iraqi food with people is just one way that she can start conversations about cultural identity. Over two years have passed since Sheelan was first introduced to FIN. She was part of the first group of Community Food Advocates, recently joined the first cohort FIN Entrepreneurs and, in September 2016, took a staff position as FIN’s Program Assistant. Being a refugee means Sheelan knows what it feels like to start something from nothing. She brings compassion into her work and is quick to respond in a moment of need. All she asks of those around her is to be open minded. Sheelan's advice to all people: “Ask questions before assuming you know someone’s story. Keep learning –there are so many free resources out there. And if you can’t find anything to learn then start a conversation with someone new.”
by Allison Mountjoy January 9, 2017, 10:30AM PST
From Motherhood to Social Justice ActivistaAt 31, Jaqueline Garcia is a force of nature. From empowering Latina mothers to small business advisor, it is motherhood that really fueled her ambition. Jaqueline left Mexico and a burgeoning dentistry practice when she and her husband moved to San Francisco. Intending to continue dentistry in the States, a different course began to unfold when they moved to Seattle and Jaqueline became pregnant. Although happy, she was very far away from her support system. Jaqueline explains: “this was a moment that I felt very isolated from family and depressed.” That moment was also the catalyst for her to become a community leader. (more…)
One of the most frightening things Cesar Amaral has ever done was to become an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he says, you must take responsibility for everything. You become the deliveryman, the marketing guru, and the business developer. But if you can plan, re-evaluate, and be persistent it will all pay off. It begins with taking responsibility and most of all, pushing yourself. Cesar’s mother passed away from diabetes in 2012 and, to him, it was a wake-up call that changed his life. Although he had built a successful career in banking he wasn’t fulfilled; he was 275lbs and wanted to turn his life around. He started simple, walking 30 minutes a day and eating small meals every three hours. As he began to improve his own health, Cesar looked to the Latino community and found alarming rates of diabetes and obesity and very few role models for health and nutrition. In taking control of his own life, it became his mission to become a role model in the Latino community and fight the diabetes and obesity epidemics. By 2014, he had left his job in banking and become certified as a personal trainer. He was producing workout videos and holding group workout classes in Spanish in an effort to get other Latinos more active. But obesity trends were still slowly rising and he started to shift his focus to nutrition as well as exercise. After much research he developed MX180, a weight management and nutrition program for people who are overweight or obese and need to improve their health. MX180 focuses on personalized nutrition plans with Mexican style meal options, virtual personal training, and a specially developed MX180 protein shake. With the launch of MX180, Cesar has become a community leader, often speaking at schools about nutrition and healthy; he truly helps people turn their lives around 180 degrees. What advice does Cesar offer other entrepreneurs? “Always connect to like-minded people. A majority of the world will tell you you’re not going to make it so it’s important to believe in yourself because the euphoria wears off. When you start something it’s so new and you’re so determined, but what will you do a few months from now when you are tired and run-down? During the dark moments you really need to dig in, get out of bed, and find people who will help keep you motivated.” “Dig in, believe in yourself, and go for it.” If you're ready to take control of your life by forming new healthy habits, try the MX180 30-Day Plan. For more details call (206) 853-9847. Check out the MX180 website and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.
In Your Face Pie Company owner Elaine grew up in the Bronx, New York with her artist minded family. Her father made wooden toys that functionally disabled adults would sand, paint, and sell. Elaine watched her father, knowing one day she too would give back to her community. Years later, after her husband's job offer in Seattle fell through, she felt dangerously close to not being able to provide for her daughter. Before moving to Seattle Elaine had earned undergraduate degrees in Acting & Directing, Technical Theatre, and a Master’s degree in Performing Arts Management. Upon leaving NYC, it became difficult to find work as many employers felt she was overqualified for the positions available. “No one wanted to hire me. I had a child at the time and I just needed a job.” Although her husband eventually found a new job and supported them, she wanted to make something of herself. Elaine's father was the first to suggest that she begin a career in baking. Elaine fell in love with the idea and immediately enrolled in baking courses, eventually earning a certificate in Pastry and Specialty baking and learning the operations skills necessary to run food catering business. She quickly opened a chocolate company and eventually a small catering company. Eventually she closed the doors on both businesses and focused on raising her two daughters until they graduated high school. Though her passion for owning food businesses never faltered. Inspired by her father's philanthropic heart and her daughter's career in the Marines, Elaine began dreaming of a pie company. She set out to start a pie cafe where anyone who walked in the door would feel at home. In addition to her pies she would also provide employment and assistance to retired veterans. To start this new journey, Elaine enrolled in courses at Start Zone which led her to make connections with the Food Innovation Network and later Ventures. Through being tenacious and hardworking she graduated from Ventures’ Business Development Training program, received both her LLC and business license, and is working on developing the catering side of her business. Her company features over 40 varieties of sweet and 18 varieties of savory pies. What advice does Elaine have for other budding entrepreneurs? “Learn everything you can about your business and be a champion for your business. You have to want it, you have to want so bad that you can taste it. And I can really taste it.”