A Winston-Salem Catering Company Connects Refugees With Their New Community
Lena Zidan cooks falafels, hummus and bean salad in the kitchen of Knollwood Baptist Church on a recent afternoon. She does most of the work but simultaneously teaches a group of high school students how to make some traditional Middle Eastern food as part of a cooking class.
Zidan, who is a refugee from Syria, is one of the cooks for the Winston-Salem-based nonprofit Delicious by Shereen.
The nonprofit aims to teach people not only how to cook Middle Eastern food, but also about their culture. It also uses only Syrian women as chefs.
A Journey from Syria to Winston-Salem
Zidan, her five children and her husband fled Syria four and a half years ago to escape the country’s civil war. She remembers the sights and sounds of war.
I was scared in the beginning, but I was excited at the same time because coming here, it's a safe place. -Lena Zidan
“It was airplanes coming with a lot of bombs, a lot of killing, it was scary,” she said. “It was horrible.”
After fleeing Syria and leaving their extended family, the Zidans lived in Egypt for a couple of years. Then on September 17, 2015, they were granted asylum and Zidan first stepped foot on American soil. She and her family worked with World Relief Triad, based in Winston-Salem, and eventually settled in an apartment.
“I was scared in the beginning, but I was excited at the same time because coming here it's a safe place,” she said.
Delicious by Shereen
After Zidan and her family settled into life in Winston-Salem, she met Shereen Abdelfattah through friends. Abdelfattah is the owner of the catering company, Delicious by Shereen. Abdelfattah moved to the U.S. in 2002 from Egypt for her husband’s college degree program. In 2009, the family made it to the Triad.
Active in the Muslim community, Abdelfattah said she noticed an influx of Syrian refugees to the Triad and wanted to support them in any way possible.
Abdelfattah and some Syrian women would cook meals at parties and the business eventually grew. Then, she began to provide cooking classes and catering around the community.
“Food is the best way to connect people together from all backgrounds,” she said. “They can sit down at one table and they don't know each other but they can start a conversation and start making new friends.”
Abdelfattah eventually wants to have an brick and mortar restaurant for catering, as well as more consistency and better financial support for her catering company. They currently receive money through donations, payments from the cooking classes, and catering events.
At any given time, Abdelfattah works with five to 10 refugee families. For now, she’s only working with Syrians because they speak the same language and have similar cultures. However, Abdelfattah said she wants to expand her business to also employ refugees from other countries as well.
Finding Friendship – And Work – In the Kitchen
The women rotate who will work different events on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, according to Abdelfattah. On this day, Zidan is in the kitchen of Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem hard at work. She’s guiding a group of European high school students on how to mix the ingredients the right way to make creamy hummus and fried falafels.
Even though she’s beginning to sweat, Zidan isn’t overwhelmed. She said she’s used to cooking all the time for large groups of people, because of how she grew up in Syria cooking for friends and family. It’s what she loves to do.
“I spend most of my day in the kitchen,” she said. “It is my kingdom.”
That’s Abdelfattah’s goal. She wants these women to make money doing what they love.
“Syrian women, when they cook, they cook from their heart,” she said. “You can taste... that effort, that time and the food is incredible.”