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    • Please join me in welcoming Manal Kahi, the cofounder and CEO of Eat Offbeat.

      A bit about Eat Offbeat: Eat Offbeat is a catering company that serves authentic meals from around the world. All dishes are conceived, prepared, and delivered by refugees who now call New York City home. We cater office lunches, happy hours, private parties, seated receptions, and large conferences. Eat
      Offbeat launched in 2016 and has since fed over 100,000 adventurous New Yorkers. It has been dubbed "the most groundbreaking catering in NYC" by Edible Manhattan.

      Welcome Manal!

    • So Manal, I got to know you first as a WeWork member, and it has been wonderful to see your organization grow! Can you talk a little bit about your journey?

    • I was lucky enough to meet you at WeWork, that was one of the turning points for our organization! Basically we as a company started in late 2014, at least the idea started around then. I had come to NYC as a graduate student, and I was very disappointed with hummus in grocery stores here in New York, started making my own based on my grandmother’s recipe, and as it became successful, my cofounder Wissam (who is also my brother) and I decided we had to find a way to sell it. And we thought of who could make the best hummus that is, we thought of Syrian refugees being resettled in nYC at the time. That was in 2013, the midst of the refugee crisis back in home, in Lebanon where I’m from. And coincidentally, my grandmother who had given me the hummus recipe I was making, she was actually from Aleppo, from Syria. 

      So that was where the idea began. And we shifted from hummus to a more global catering company that isn’t just working with just Syrian refugees but also from around the world, and we looked for other cuisines that are so much better when they are homemade, and that taste so much better when they are homemade. We moved to the Columbia Startup Lab, and that’s when I met you Victoria, and we were honored to be a part of that workshop for growing businesses, and after that one of the major turning points was taking part in the WeWork Creator Awards, winning at the New York and then the regional level in 2018.

      From 2015, we had 3 team members in the kitchen: today we have 30 team members, including sous chefs, customer service, chefs, special events, management - every single function for a catering company - with the focus on full-time chefs being our passion. 

    • That has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Every single chef who works with us is incredibly talented. With every new hire, we discover a new set of dishes, new spices, new flavors and new tastes. And that’s been incredibly rewarding and mind-blowing! 

      Another common thing we’ve seen among all our chefs is how resilient they are. They’ve all gone through difficult situations, but everyone is incredibly resilient, and proud of what they are doing, and incredibly happy to share their cuisines with the rest of New York. 

    • I think one way this materializes at our kitchen that I’ve personally experienced is of course the flavors are so different with every country, every culture, the cuisines are different. But if you look closely at the end of the day, it’s the same thing, wholesome food. Back in the early days, we needed a new recipe, we needed our chefs to come up with something new. And 2 chefs, one from Nepal, one from Iraq, both began boiling potatoes at the same time. Then they both mashed, and peeled, and they both began preparing fillings - one was a meat filling, the other was a vegetarian filling. Different spices, different flavors. They made them into balls, fried them, and at the end they were two round-type potatoes filled with meat or a vegetarian filling, completely different, but they are also a similar thing. And I think that’s the best way to show how we might look different, we might have different things that constitute us, but at the end, we are all the same! And that’s something we live by at the kitchen. 

    • Some of our most popular dishes include Chicken Fesenjan, from Iran (any type of meat - the one we sell is chicken-based, and the sauce is pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts in it - it’s tangy, sweet, one of my favorite dishes too), made by Chef Nasrin. Another best seller is the Momos, Nepali dumplings, by Chef Racshna. Another bestseller is by Chef Dhuha - her Iraqi baklava is less sweet, and because it’s homemade, it’s much less industrial-tasting, it’s homestyle.  

    • One of our proudest moments was catering for a UN agency at the New York Public Library. They got us a permit to cater there for about 200 people, and just the chance to be there - catering for ambassadors - plating onsite was one of our highlights! That same night, we also catered another event for the UN headquarters, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was there and tried our food and we heard that he liked it! 

    • What are some interesting approaches to flavors that we may not know about? For instance, I remember being surprised by more savory breakfast fare?

    • One of the items we serve for breakfast is Lebneh, a type of drained yogurt, and it’s much thicker and more tangy than regular yogurt.  We serve it with toasted pita bread with Z’atar, like a dip. It’s eaten all over the Middle East and Iran too. And it’s a completely new flavor profile for Americans who may be used to a more sweet breakfast flavor. A lot of people really love it. A few people are not into it! And with breakfast we are usually more careful, because people may be more adventurous with lunch or dinner, but breakfast you are just having your coffee, so we want to be careful and not push it too hard. 

    • One of the things I love about Eat Offbeat is how you don’t even notice if a dish is meatless, it’s so flavorful. Do you find that vegetarians and vegans are huge fans?

    • Absolutely. We do find that a lot of cuisines that we feature on our menu have tons of tasty vegetarian or vegan menus. You don’t have to put effort into it, they are recipes that have been perfected over generations and generations as part of the cuisine, and they are mains, not necessarily side dishes. At any menu, we always have 2-3 vegan items every time we cater, and we often do all-vegetarian, or all-vegan, menus. And there’s a huge audience here in NYC that appreciates.

      We will feature many of these recipes in our upcoming cookbook, which should be coming out this fall. Keep an eye out for the cookbook on our social media channels.

      For example, the Manchurian is a dish from Nepal with influences from India and China. It is deep-fried cauliflower fritters in a mildly spicy batter. This has been a bestseller, and a huge hit with vegetarians and vegans! 

    • Each recipe goes through several levels of testing. First a chef has to try it for our family meals. We serve a family meal for our whole team every day at lunch, and so we all try it - if everyone likes it, then it goes to the second stage. The second stage, the head chef tries it, and then works with the chef on improving it - standardizing it, getting it to be consistent every time, scaling it for large production. If a recipe fits all the criteria - price, packaging, durability (how long it lasts during a delivery - if it’s still good 2 hours later, for instance). And then lastly, we get feedback from our customers, and based on that feedback, we either keep it or retire it. 

    • Passion, passion, passion!

      They really have to be passionate about food. And usually you can tell that from the moment they walk into the kitchen. You can tell the moment they walk into the kitchen. When someone has that true passion, everything else can be developed. Because they are passionate, they work on their skills more and more. Because they are passionate, they are more open to criticism. But definitely passion is the first thing we look for. 

      We work with the IRC through our partnership to help us with the hiring process. We have candidates come in for an interview on the job so the team can have a say, get an idea of their energy. 

    • To see the company grow, to have more and more chefs who are contributing to a menu that is vibrant, and a team that is proud of being here, but beyond that, my dream is really for all of our chefs to go on to start their own businesses, either managing entire teams here with us at Eat Offbeat, or starting their own catering company, restaurant, food business - whatever they want to be in. Our success is in the success of each and every one of our chefs. So my dream is for them to be successful.