Refugees from Iraq see cafe success in Iowa

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Basma Zalzala moved her loved ones to the United States in 2014 following her husband was killed by a bomb in Baghdad.

It was a significant final decision to search for a improved, safer long run.

“I had my daughter and three boys to just take care of,” Zalzala said. “It was extremely challenging due to the fact we did not talk the language. We could just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”

The sole supplier for her loved ones, she often labored a few or 4 employment at a time to make finishes meet up with. A single of those employment was functioning at Taza Clean, a Mediterranean eatery that commenced as a food stuff truck prior to it turned a brick-and-mortar cafe in Ankeny.

Started by Thaer Taha, also a refugee from Iraq, Zalzala is now aiding to develop the enterprise with its to start with franchise spot, now open up in Ames.

With each other she and her loved ones — sons Ali Ahmed, Abdullah Ahmed and Emad Ahmed, and daughter and son-in-regulation Aaya Ahmed and Harith Alanbagi — own and perform with each other in the restaurant, 1310 S. Duff Ave., which opened July 10.

“We ended up all currently doing work with most people in a various position,” Zalzala advised the Ames Tribune. “So we considered, ‘Why not work jointly?’”

The day it opened, the line of clients arrived at virtually all the way to Finest Obtain, reported Ali Ahmed. “The initially week, we would operate out of meals three or four hrs right before closing. And we were being practically prepping for two days’ really worth of enterprise,” he reported.

Their level of popularity in Ames was just one of the causes Taha made a decision to extend with franchises in the 1st location. Individuals who’d eaten from the food truck parked at Iowa Condition College would vacation to Ankeny “just to get the food” of shawarma, falafel, hummus and pita, Ali Ahmed claimed.

But there’s a further which means to Taza Fresh’s enlargement. Taha mentioned he also needed to give family members an chance to get the job done jointly and produce a prosperous organization in the US.

And at a time when lots of dining places are struggling to retain workers, family members coming with each other can be a person remedy to the challenge, Taha reported.

“I want to provide some classic Middle Jap foods below,” he said. “This notion will be for certain a successful (one particular) for the household to run their enterprise.

Taha came to the United States as a refugee in 2009. He left his residence region of Iraq in 1997 for employment alternatives in Dubai, and planned to do the job a several yrs before he moved back home to start off a small business.

“But by then the war experienced started. My region was destroyed by war after war,” he reported.

He and his wife, Maruj, finally moved to Malaysia, the place they and another few began a tiny bakery and grocery retail store.

Mainly because of a visa denial, the few moved to Jordan, where by Maruj’s household experienced escaped to from Iraq. There, they utilized to be refugees as a result of the United Nations and immediately after about two several years, the United States acknowledged them.

“They instructed me Iowa was safe. Of course, they have very cold weather, but I was looking for a harmless position for my small children,” Taha explained.

He labored at Dee Zee manufacturing and was a forklift driver at Firestone Tire Corporation. He finally still left production to get a experience for the American restaurant industry.

“I would perform portion-time in two dining places at a time,” Taha stated. “After 1 calendar year, I decided to seem for a restaurant.”

The expenditure was steep — about $400,000.

So he determined to start off modest and in April 2018, he started off his own food truck.

“It was a really difficult time at first for the reason that most of the folks did not know our name. They didn’t know our product. ‘What is shawarma?’ ‘What is falafel?’ At times we gave out samples far more than we would provide,” he explained.

Occasionally Taha would go dwelling with zero revenue, he stated.

“It was a awful working experience. But I was preventing to operate my business enterprise and take it to the subsequent degree.

“Me and my wife, we ended up knocking the doors. She was knocking the neighbors’ doors. I was knocking the organization doorways. ‘We have a food stuff truck.’ ‘We can do catering,’” he claimed.

Taza Fresh new eventually participated in the Food stuff Truck Throwdown in downtown Des Moines — and won three trophies in two decades. For a though, Taza Clean also was a food truck vendor at Iowa Point out.

“The pupils liked us. It was simpler than downtown since of the variety. Some learners had been Indian, Arabic or Malaysian, so they knew Mediterranean food stuff and they would educate their American buddies,” Taha stated.

The foodstuff truck experiences gave the Tahas the thrust they wanted.

In March of 2020, Taha closed it down simply because of the coronavirus pandemic. But he stored creating recipes, and manufactured strategies to come back again as a brick-and-mortar procedure.

With guidance from the Ankeny Chamber of Commerce, Taza Refreshing opened its initial standalone locale at the Des Moines Spot Local community College or university scholar center, 2006 S. Ankeny Blvd., in the former Leaning Tower of Pizza.

Whilst the nuts and bolts of the restaurant are not from scratch, the food items is. Taha has produced quite a few recipes on Taza’s menu, and his intention is to make those people recipes effortlessly replicated at other destinations.

“My target isn’t about how significantly I’m earning these days but how can I make it straightforward for other people to operate this small business,” he mentioned. “Especially with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern meals, it is a small a lot more challenging. It’s not just putting a hamburger on a grill.”

It is a little something Taha explained he devised to aid just take some risk out of the expense for his franchisees. Having the exact same cooking procedures in numerous areas helps ordeals continue to be regular for customers, irrespective of the locale.

Even though Zalzala’s relatives was not professional in cooking, Taha was in a position to prepare her adult children to prepare dinner all the things on the menu.

“They prepare dinner. They marinate. They do hummus. They do sauces. They cook the rooster and the steak. They stick to the steps, 1-2-3,” Taha explained. “They have a handbook for that.”

“Anyone who has a passion, we are prepared to train them from A-to-Z,” he stated.

He also provides them with schooling and support for any new goods that are included to the menu.

The only detail he does not share? The recipe for his spice blend, which characteristics eight to 10 elements that Taha mixes in Ankeny and sends to Ames.

“It’s a key recipe and it is the only factor I did not teach them how to make,” Taha said with a snicker.

The rooster shawarma has been the most popular menu item in Ames, but Ali Ahmed reported his favourite is the steak shawarma. It’s also accessible with falafel as a vegetarian alternative.

“In the Middle East, shawarmas are for sure recognized to be rooster,” Ali Ahmed reported. “Everybody is also definitely liking the falafel. It is designed similar to how it is manufactured back again house.”

Shawarma is thinly sliced chicken or steak that has been marinated right away. It is Taha’s individual recipe, which involves citrus juice.

“Our spices, we really don’t make it spicy but we make it flavorful,” he reported. “Mediterranean and Center Jap flavors are not more than-spiced. You are unable to determine out what the spices are — it’s about the blend.”

The restaurant’s signature shawarma is a wrap made out of pita, generally discovered as street foodstuff in the Center East. It features french fries, garlic sauce and pickles.

“This is our road meals and we want to hold it a little bit exclusive. In some cases clients will say, ‘What? It has fries in it?’ And I’ll say, ‘If you really don’t like it, I’ll give you your cash back,’” Taha claimed.

“They always like it.”

The spring shawarma is a grilled wrap that features tomato and onion as an alternative of fries. It also comes as a bowl, which includes basmati rice cooked with Taha’s blend of spice.

Falafel is readily available on shawarma or as a aspect.

“Falafel is hard to obtain in Iowa in typical and ours is gluten absolutely free,” Taha mentioned. “We make it from only chickpeas, greens, herbs and spices.”

Hummus, tzatziki and the baba ganouj are all produced from scratch.

“Many components in our delicacies are quite healthful. Like the chickpeas are rich in protein and iron, and sesame seeds are pretty abundant in calcium,” Taha mentioned. “We have several selections that are healthy and flavorful far too.”

Do-it-yourself baklava and healthier granola bars are usually offered as desserts.

At the end of the working day, sharing the flavors of their house place is satisfying, Abdullah Ahmed reported. And dwelling up to the Taza Fresh name — Taza suggests new in Arabic — by producing food items from scratch each individual working day is vital to them.

“We like for our consumers to see what other good foodstuff is out there that they just have not been launched to,” Ali Ahmed mentioned.