Living Cuisine: Jeeran 55 Syrian Kitchen

Six months ago, three University of Lethbridge students launched a culinary venture designed to help integrate newcomers into the city and bring the first Syrian cuisine to Lethbridge. What started as a random conversation has since grown to receive a warm welcome from the community.

Jeeran55 Syrian Kitchen was brought to life following a successful crowdfunding campaign last summer. “It was overwhelming,” says Abed Mouslli, of the community support. He never expected to meet, nevertheless exceed their $15,000 goal. Abed says 90 per cent of the support they received online was from Lethbridge. “The community was amazing to us.”

Abed is a Syrian newcomer himself. He moved to Lethbridge just over two years ago after receiving a scholarship at the University of Lethbridge. Along with his fulltime studies, Abed works closely with the Syrian community through Lethbridge Family Services, where he is an Arabic interpreter. He made quick friends with Ammar Shahid, a University of Lethbridge Management student.

They realized there is a gap in the way Syrian newcomer women are integrated into Canadian culture.

“You can see how 90 per cent of Syrian newcomer men have already found employment. Most of them work, lots of them have bought houses; they are settling in here. But if you look at the women, it’s really hard for them to find employment,” says Abed.

“We’re trying to accommodate. These people have a lot of value to add to the Lethbridge scene. They have talent; they have a professional attitude; they want to work; they want to be productive. But they don’t have the outlet. So, we’re trying to just accommodate their need with the community need, which is a lack of authentic Middle Eastern food.”

Together with U of L student Deema Abushaban, they created a business model based on providing Syrian women with a full-time income and reliable job. Most enjoy cooking, so the idea is to help them express their love for cooking and help them earn an independent living as well.

“Our business model is based on woman empowerment and newcomer integration,” says Abed. “When we say empowerment, what we can provide for these women is financial empowerment.”

Right now, they have two cooks and hope to expand. The women are talented home cooks, not professional chefs, so the goal is to provide training such as how to work in a commercial kitchen and how to deal with customers.

The catering service’s name has a special meaning. Jeeran is the Arabic word for “neighbours,” while “55” represents the number of Syrian families who were settled in Lethbridge when their idea was conceived.

Jeeran55 currently offers catering and has partnered to provide a few community lunches. They hope to expand to include daily meal service in the near future.

“So if you’re at work, instead of ordering Subway, you can order a Mandi or Tabbouleh,” says Abed.

“We’re trying to make the unfamiliar more familiar.”

 “The goal is to normalize the culture and food, because food is just the presentation of the culture. The Syrian community is growing in Lethbridge and we are part of Lethbridge. Now people will see it as ‘the exotic food I might get once a year’. But my goal is just to get this food out of the box to something you can have on a Tuesday night.”
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