• A middle eastern feast cooked by the family behind Baghdad Soul Food. (Su)Source: Su
The Al-Janabi family ran a restaurant in Baghdad for 20 years. Now resettled in Sydney, they’re returning to their foodie roots, with catering business Baghdad Soul Food.
SBS Small Business Secrets
23 Feb 2018 - 2:38 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2018 - 5:01 PM

The Al-Janabis have twice had their lives upended by war – first in Iraq, then Syria.

Originally from Baghdad, they fled after the 2003 US invasion, leaving behind the restaurant they had run for 20 years.

“Before war, it was very good,” says eldest daughter, Matheel. "But after the war, oh my god, it was terrible. A lot of bombs, a lot of killing, a lot of kidnapping people.”

The family fled to Syria, where they lived for seven years - until war broke again.

Matheel says it felt like the violence was following them.

This time, they uprooted to Turkey. While they were lucky to be safe, finding work in the country proved difficult, as an influx of refugees fueled tensions in the country.

Finally in 2015, the Al-Janabis were granted resettlement in Australia.

Back to business

Now living in Sydney, the Al-Janabis are returning to their business-owning roots.

Baghdad Soul Food is the catering business they run, led by Matheel. They’ve cooked for weddings, events and dinner parties.

But Matheel admits learning how to launch a business in Australia was a confusing process.

“Because we don’t know about safety, about ABN, about a lot of things.”

She sought the help of Thrive, a non-profit that helps refugees learn how to start businesses in Australia.

Thrive also provides loans up to 20,000 dollars, as a lack of credit history means many refugees struggle to access financing from the banks.

“She has told us almost every time we met her that she is not someone who would like to live on Centrelink benefits,” says Mahir Momand, Thrive’s CEO.

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“Initially when she came, she learned English, did a few courses at TAFE in relation to food handling... so she has taken steps to get to where she is right now.”

The family now caters two to four events a month, though they’re hoping to grow that further.

Recently, they cooked for a dinner party at Lea Bouganim home, whose own family arrived in Australia as Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.

Part of Matheel’s mission is changing the public's perceptions of refugees.

“Because some people thought refugees don’t work, they come here to get money from Centrelink.  We want to change this idea,” she says.

As for the business itself, her father, Adel, (who ran the family restaurant back in Baghdad) has high hopes too: “My dream, [eventually] I have restaurant here in Australia.”

Watch this story at the top of the page, or catch the full episode on SBS On Demand.

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