Racha Abou Alchamat
THE FOUNDER OF RACHA’S KITCHEN, RACHA’S JOURNEY SO FAR HAS SPANNED THREE COUNTRIES—SYRIA, DUBAI AND HER CURRENT HOME IN AUSTRALIA. AND SHE’S ONLY JUST BEGINNING.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m from Syria, and I lived for a long time in Saudi Arabia. I came back to Syria for university. My father is a chef, he owns restaurant in Saudi Arabia and then in Dubai. I’m raised around a family that loves to cook and gather. There would be around 50 people gathering in small apartments – grandsons and daughters, uncles and aunties. So imagine we had to have tables full of different kinds of food to feed everyone.
I got married, travelled to Dubai and lived there for almost 8 years. Then we got an opportunity during wartime, where my husband got a business visa granted to go to Australia. So we decided to move here (Chatswood, Sydney).
Before this, I didn’t do any catering, cooking – only for my kids, friends and family. I was working for 6-7 years in Syria at a telecommunications company, then when I moved to Dubai in 2007 up until 2014 (before we moved to Australia), I was a homemaker.
How did you get the initial idea to start your business?
When I came to Australia in 2014, I didn’t have anyone I know who were from the Syrian community. It was so hard for me in the beginning. I just wanted to engage and connect with the community. So I thought, what better way to do that than through food?
One time, one of my neighbours told me that my kids’ school is organising a fundraising event to raise money for the school, and she asked me whether I would be interested to do a Syrian food stall. This was the first thing that I did here, and we ended up selling all the food that day. It was the first Middle Eastern/Syrian stall in a Chatswood public school in 20 years or so. It was such a great experience.
After a while I met my former business partner through a cooking page on Facebook. They invited us to dinner, and that’s how we started seriously talking about starting our own business.
We had so many corporate catering events, pop-up kitchens in other restaurants and cafes, and school markets around the Northern Beaches area. Initially we started making traditional Syrian ma’amoul filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts. Then we decided to add one more item to the ma’amoul family – the cheese ma’amoul. This takes extra care because it’s delicate and it needs to be baked fresh. The ma’amoul with cheese is unique to Syria, and when we started selling them, they would sell out so quickly. People loved it.
Who is involved in running your business? Who is your business partner (if any), or who works together with you?
I worked with my business partner Nidal for the last 5 years. But now it’s just myself and some casual employees, some of whom are my friends. My husband helps me and supports me all the time. I recently found out he may not be so bad in the kitchen! He helped me in 3 different occasions at The Rocks Market, where we had our Syrian food stall. So, something new came out of this experience!
Other than this, I work with the support of the community I’ve come to know. For example, Welcome Merchant. We’ve worked together since 2021, and they’ve helped me so much in growing my business and connecting me with new customers. We did lots of collaborations and social events, and all of them were very successful.
FoodLab is also one of my main supporters; this organisation helps and supports small businesses, and with them, I was able to put together a business plan, and started a food stall at The Rocks Market. They have offered me the kitchen space at the Sydney University campus to do my catering there too.
Canva has graciously lend me their kitchen space when needed, and sometimes when I do catering – some of these events include those events done together with Welcome Merchant and FoodLab.
What’s the best part about running your own business?
There are lots of things. We started out with selling at the market and catering – but Racha’s Kitchen has blossomed into so much more than catering. We have the cooking classes, our products are part of the Welcome Merchant hampers, events, and cooking collaborations.
What’s the highlight so far with running your business?
This might be a very traditional way of putting it, but at almost every experience I’ve had, each of them has been a turning point for Racha’s Kitchen.
For me, it’s always great to see people coming to one of my cooking events and seeing the smiles on their faces after eating what we have cooked together. But beyond that, when I did the collaboration with FoodLab, I felt like that was as much a turning point as when I joined Welcome Merchant and meeting Marjorie.
The markets were also the highlights, because I get to learn a lot from the different market experiences. So I would say each and every experience I’ve had has been the highlight.
Any exciting future plans you can share about your business?
I want to concentrate on the cheese ma’amoul, and introduce it as a product/brand. I hope that one day it will sell well through supermarkets or through websites – so basically mass-produce.
I’ve also been offered some collaboration opportunities with local Middle-Eastern restaurants, and we might potentially do some breakfast events. And this is great, because I’m always looking for more collaborations – they are always so rewarding and I enjoy doing them.
At the end of the day, my goal is simple: to introduce Syrian food to people in Australia, no matter the way. It may be through a cooking class, market or an event.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about you and/or your team?
Some word of advice for future business owners: if you have a dream, don’t just dream about it. Just go out there and try, even if you fail. It’s good to try, because you’ll regret it if you don’t.
If you have something, do your best, and in the end, you will get something out of it. I don’t think it will go to waste; you will always gain something out of it.