What’s it like combining work with family?
Well, no-one has ripped each others heads off (yet!). It’s pretty amazing that I can work with my family. My brother Emad and sister-in-law Marwa bought the business in the late 1990s. Our parents got involved in the very early days, collecting produce from the markets. Today my nieces and nephews – Natalie, George and Michael – are very much involved in the business, supporting our vision and adding their own stamp to it. I’ve done pretty much every role in the business.
Tell us about your heritage.
I have two brothers and three sisters who were all born in either Lebanon or Syria. My uncle immigrated to Australia in 1966 and my Dad followed. When Dad arrived, he worked all kinds of jobs. He started in a metal foundry in Huntingdale, and saved his wage to send back to Mum to enable her and my siblings to come here (who arrived four years later). He bought and sold small businesses – a milk bar, a deli – he had amazing business acumen not to mention the balls to do what he did.
My parents could sense a change happening in their home land. Syria was the most beautiful, serene, fertile, peaceful place. The whole country has now been decimated. It’s incredibly sad. We’ve got family members that have been upended by the turmoil and ones who have passed. But Lebanon is still one of the best countries in the world. There is so much tension and fear, but people still live with joy and fearlessness. They look forward to each day, and retain an unwavering hope amongst the despair and uncertainty.
Do you have any family food traditions?
Our family’s patron saint is Saint Elias (my parents named me after him, too). Any time there was a sick child or accident, my family would offer a sacrifice to Saint Elias to help guide us through the tough times, and this sacrifice would be made on 20th July, Saint Elias’ day. So our sacrifice is a rooster. We kill it, clean it, and cook to share it as part of our dinner on that day, every year. We use one of mum’s roosters. My dad used to do the sacrifice, but he passed in 2013 so I do it now. It helps me to connect with who he was. There’s not many of those opportunities, and I like that.
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