In this week’s supplier feature, we spoke with Nihal from Tayybeh and got the chance to learn more about their social enterprise and food venture. Tayybeh is one of our suppliers for delicious Mhammara Red Pepper Dip and Mutabbal Eggplant Dip hailed from Syrian cuisine and made by newcomer Syrian women chefs! Tayybeh is on a mission to empower newcomer Syrian women by offering opportunities for employment, financial independence, social integration, while highlighting their unique, traditional, and savoury fares.
Without further ado, let's learn more about Tayybeh’s amazing venture!
Can you tell us more about the story of how Tayybeh got started?
With the first wave of Syrian refugees escaping the war in their country arriving in Vancouver, the most vulnerable among them were the women. Many had been traumatized by the conflict and the arduous journey. Few spoke English and fewer still had ever been gainfully employed. In an attempt to support them, a pop-up dinner with four newcomer Syrian women chefs was put together to help them earn some money. It was a glowing success with tickets selling out in minutes and with enthusiastic demands for more such events. Tayybeh, the Arabic word for both “kind” which also means “delicious” in Syrian, was born out of this success. Sold out dinners across the Lower Mainland introduced the cuisine. It was there that diners enthusiastically encouraged Tayybeh to make their food products available in markets.
What does a day in the life look like working at Tayybeh?
For many of the women the day begins with a commute to our kitchen on Main Street from their homes in Surrey. Some of the women enjoy working to the music of Lebanese songstress Fairouz, so it’s not uncommon to hear her voice in the background. Once settled in, they begin working their magic in the kitchen to whip up some absolutely delicious dips, spreads, meals and dishes. Whether it’s dips that go out to stores like Nada and farmers markets across the city, or fresh meals, or catering orders, or items for meal prep programs, Tayybeh’s chefs are on fire from the moment they walk in until they call it a day. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to mingle together. While working they chit chat and bond over their families, their daily routines, and their recipes. The kitchen can sometimes be very dynamic and busy but it’s always a place of friendly banter, shared laughter and commiseration during trying times.
Where is your business located, where do you make your products, and how many employees do you currently have?
Tayybeh’s operations are run out of the Commissary Connect at 401 Industrial Ave. That is where all of our amazing products are prepared. Tayybeh currently employs around 11 incredible Syrian women chefs and staff members.
Do your employees ever provide new recipes for Tayybeh?
Actually all of the food produced by Tayybeh is developed from well-honed, generations-old family recipes belonging to our Syrian women chefs. These recipes reflect their families’ preferences and regional specificities—whether Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, or other regions in Syria.
Can you tell us more about Syrian cuisine?
Syrian cuisine is centuries old and among the most established and celebrated in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Throughout modern history, some of the region’s chefs traveled to Damascus and Aleppo, much like travel to Italy and France, to hone their skills and perfect the elaborate and sophisticated dishes of the Levant. Unlike Lebanese cuisine which has traveled extensively, Syrian food has yet to be commercialized. It wasn’t until the war in Syria that the world became introduced to the complexity and diversity of this remarkable cuisine. The geography of Syria and its landscape tell the story of the country’s food. From coastal regions on the Mediterranean with seafaring to mountainous areas to rivers and valleys to desert, the country has a wide variety of ecologies that allow for immense variety in agricultural produce. Seasons determine ingredients and crops inspire vast diversity in dishes. It is no surprise that there are no less than 20 different ways to make kebabs and up to 40 recipes for kibbeh (minced meat croquette).
We love your motto: “The measure of a society is in its generosity and kindness towards its most vulnerable”. Can you tell us about some social initiatives (like providing 5000 meals during COVID-19) you have implemented within your business?
As a social enterprise, Tayybeh is committed to the empowerment and well-being of our Syrian newcomer women and the community at large. British Columbians have been immensely generous towards Syrian refugees, including Tayybeh’s staff, from the moment of their arrival. For this reason, we have decided to always give back to those in need and to exemplify what we would like to see in society. Since the advent of Covid, Tayybeh, with support from Vancity and other partners, prepared over 5500 meals to the needy across the Lower Mainland and particularly in the Downtown Eastside. We have also regularly donated food to vulnerable communities in the vicinity of our kitchen. We believe that what goes around comes around. When we were in need, people stepped up to support us. Our way of giving back includes making donations to those facing tremendous hardship, such as the victims of the 2016 Fort McMurray fire.
At Tayybeh, we are not just an employer, we are a community. For this reason, improving the livelihood of our Syrian women staff is paramount. As a social enterprise, our support for them goes far beyond offering a competitive living wage in the food industry. Instead it extends to most aspects of life in BC such as helping liaise between them and municipal, provincial, and federal service agencies; providing references and serving as guarantors for them and their families, and helping them with translation and interpretation. These and many other efforts are part of our dedicated commitment to ensure they are able to smoothly navigate and successfully adapt in their new homes.
How have you shifted your business since the pandemic started?
Before the pandemic, Tayybeh was expanding swiftly in so many directions—full-service catering, food truck, and products in retail. Unfortunately, with the pandemic hitting the food industry hard, catering to groups became untenable. Weddings, office lunches, conferences, galas, conventions, family gatherings and other group celebrations were all canceled. It was an extremely stressful time for our staff. If all our operations had ground to a halt, our team would have stayed home and lost their incomes, which their families were dependent on during these difficult times. We had no option but to adapt and do so swiftly. Instead, we launched individual fresh meals, frozen products, and expanded store-bought products. Thanks to the immense support of our community of fans and followers who really came through for us. We also launched a new website that allowed those craving Tayybeh yummies to purchase directly through the platform. We also invested in delivery to ensure our food gets to whomever needs it. We also expanded the range and variety of our products for sale with many of these requested by our frequent customers.
Any exciting plans for the future?
We are currently finalizing a Tayybeh cookbook that will feature our chefs’ stories and favourite recipes as well as the journey of Tayybeh. The book will be published by Penguin Random House, hopefully next year.
In other great news, we are preparing more amazing products which we have been working on the last few months and hope to bring to stores across and beyond the Lower Mainland. We have our eyes set on markets across Canada.
Can you recommend some of your favourite food items from Tayybeh?
While all our food is both delicious and unique, our dips are hands down the most popular and memorable—the muhammara, the eggplant mutabbal, and now our recent additions of hummus and beet dip. Another crowd pleaser that pairs perfectly with all of our dips is our homestyle pita chips which we prepare fresh in house. Finally our fatayer pies are a phenomenal quick, healthy, and filling snack which we prepare in different varieties including filled with cheese, olives, and red pepper muhammara.
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about our supplier Tayybeh and their dedication to bringing a unique dining experience through the talents of newcomer Syrian women chefs.
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