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.
Startup Q&A: Soozveen Catering
FIN is excited to support the launch of four new local caterers cooking out of our shared commercial kitchen in Kent. The catering businesses each received a small start-up grant and reduced rent fees and are now fully licensed and insured caterers. FIN partner, Project Feast, is a core tenant, training culinary apprentices who operate the lunch cafe, Cafe Ubuntu. FIN is working closely with partners Ventures, StartZone and Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship to ensure each entrepreneur is matched with a business coach, receives ongoing training and identifies market opportunities such as catering events, farmers markets, and festivals. The seven entrepreneurs are operating under 4 catering businesses and will be cooking up cuisines from around the world. Swahili Seattle Food, Soozveen, Rekebot Coffee House and Mian Dian cater dishes and flavors from Kenya, Iraq, Ethiopia and China. Many thanks for the support from Seattle Foundation, Communities of Opportunity, Port of Seattle, and City of Kent. Their generous support has helped FIN and partners to build out the commercial kitchen and ensure the entrepreneurs and apprentices have the support services needed. And a special thank you to Project Feast for spending the many hours managing the remodeling project! If you have a catering or special event coming up, please give a FIN entrepreneur a call!
CommunityEnterprise offers accessible and affordable "first step" entrepreneurship training, consulting and other support, empowering people in low-wealth and underserved communities to start and grow profitable small businesses sustainably connected to a local, living economy. The First Step series is essential for those who want to start a business. It is not a “How to Start a Business” class. Instead, it will help you assess your readiness and the feasibility of your business idea and business goals. Classes meet for 2 hours a week, for 3 weeks. Apply online at www.cie-nw.org/apply or email email@example.com for more information.
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
Anchor tenant and FIN partner Project Feast, is working hard with us to get the Pilot Kitchen ready to use. Project Feast’s apprentice program and the first FIN entrepreneur cohort will begin using the space in August this year. Stay tuned for photos!
After over 6 months of looking, FIN has officially secured a space for our Pilot Kitchen, located in the Kent Partnership Development Building. We faced many challenges trying to find an available kitchen space within SeaTac or Tukwila; reinforcing the timeliness of our work and dedication to creating durable resources in SeaTac and Tukwila. It is in the Pilot Kitchen that we will work to test our service coordination and model business incubation with the first cohort of FIN entrepreneurs. This work will help us become ready to enter the FIN Center, slated to open in 2018.
The entrepreneurs had their first meeting together today. We had a great discussion on peer learning opportunities, business development trainings and rent structures for the pilot kitchen space. The entrepreneurs will begin meeting monthly and will be doing a training on pricing this month. Meanwhile, we continue exploring other kitchen facilities in the area and have a couple leads.