A trio of Syrian newcomers to Halifax, concerned with the amount of food they witnessed going to waste at a local food bank, have come up with a delicious baking enterprise that's helping them connect with their new community.
Rafat Harb and brothers Ahmad and Alla Alhraki are tempting palates at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market, sharing the delicacies of their home country with their new city.
Their booth, Piece of the East, has been open for three weeks now, and they've been busy making and selling pickles, coconut bread, baklava and other Syrian treats.
The idea for the business started last year, when they were volunteering at the Parker Street Food Bank as part of an empowerment course that helps newcomers with financial literacy, community integration and language skills.
As they were sorting food one day, they realized how much produce was being passed over just because it wasn't perfect looking or was too ripe to go in a hamper.
Sylvia Gawad, founder of Piece of the East and the men's English teacher, said the trio came to her and said "'we wish we could make something out of this.'"
"And I said 'why not?'"
Piece of the East coconut bread. (Photo: Piece of the East/Facebook)
Gawad, herself a newcomer to Canada, is from Egypt and lived in Libya before coming to Halifax in 2011 for university.
She said she's been blown away by the tenacity and resourcefulness of her business partners.
"The boys are so creative. They can make something out of anything," she said, adding that the project has served as a huge help in navigating their new lives in Canada.
"Having come from a war-torn country, there's this combination of having to be smart about using resources available to them, combined with just being creative."
Ahmad Alhraki passes out samples of his Syrian treats at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market. (Photo: Piece of the East/Facebook)
"They're using their skills, talent, pride — they don't want to rely on government funding, they don't want to rely on welfare. They want to be able to save for their future."
For now, the group is using kitchen space provided by Hope Blooms — another social enterprise in Halifax — and relying on food donations from the food bank.
"The boys are so creative. They can make something out of anything."
However, said Gawad, their short term goal is to find additional sources of food donations — other food banks, or perhaps farms — and a kitchen space to call their own.
Long term, she said, the group dreams of opening a pay-what-you-can restaurant, where a portion of the profits would go back into community programs.