York’s amazing social enterprise restaurant

York’s amazing social enterprise restaurant

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I had the absolute delight recently of visiting my social entrepreneur buddy Rob Ainsworth's new pop-up restaurant - Yahala Mataam. We had an amazing Syrian set menu, and all the proceeds go to good causes.

Located in the spectacular old Salvation Army building at the top of Gillygate, the food, atmosphere and service were excellent. The pay-as-you-feel three course meal included authentic breads, stews and a mind-blowing desert, all prepared by Syrian refugees who now call York home. A highly recommended experience and an excellent cause! Rob has written a few words below about the venture, why he set it up, and how to book a table.

Yahala Mataam is York’s refugee-led Pop-up Restaurant, Street Food Vendor, and Cookery School. Each month we host a number of pop-up restaurant events with refugee chefs from Afghanistan and Syria serving up food from their own culture. Our mission is to give opportunity, build confidence, and see dignity restored in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.

The idea for Yahala Mataam started back when the UK government said that the UK would give refuge and homes to 20,000 refugees in the UK. I was one of those people who tweeted #RefugeesWelcome. Little did I think that would mean just a few years later that we’d have refugee neighbours, my kids would play with their kids and start to understand phrases like “Calm down” in Arabic, or that I’d not really go a day without interacting with a refugee friend.

At the time of the first arrival in York I was running a charity, we had a referral for a fridge for a family from Syria, we had one so we brought it round to them and tried to explain that they shouldn’t turn it on for a while, this was the start of a friendship with Syrian people. Not long after this another family arrived, we met and were invited to go for a meal, the table was filled with food, beautifully cooked rice and chicken, falafels that told a story, and recipes that had been passed down through the generations.

This story kept repeating, making new refugee friends, being invited to their houses for meals and enjoying their hospitality and generosity. It felt a little awkward to be honest, surely as the Brit welcoming them to my country I should be hosting them and giving them roast beef? But we started to notice that something restorative was going on; as we received (and enjoyed) what was uniquely theirs to share with us, we could see that it was good for them. It was at this point the seeds of Yahala Mataam were starting to be planted. Could we scale this up into a pop-up restaurant that was like being invited into their Syrian homes; enjoying their hospitality, culture, and cuisine?

In 2019 Yahala Mataam opened for the first time, a partnership between a wonderful group of Syrian refugees and some volunteers from York City Church & the Refugee Council. We opened for 6 sell-out evenings before COVID shut us down. Each night our refugee friends would lay the tables and fill them with 3 courses of home-made Syrian delights. There was a huge sense of achievement in the team, but there was a deeper thing going on too – for the first time since settling in York, some had had the opportunity to give to the city and not just be receivers of help; they had added to culture in a small but significant way.

Post-COVID, Yahala Mataam has emerged and grown into an exciting social enterprise. We regularly host pop-up restaurant nights across the city, serving wonderful food from Syria and Afghanistan; we cater for private events; we take our street-food tent to festivals and university campuses; and we’ve started a cookery school, teaching many how to make meals from war-torn lands.

We’d love to see you at one of our pop-up events, or even cater for one of your events. Check us out online linktr.ee/YahalaMataam

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