Refugees and Immigrants
Chef Iman Alshehab fled her home in war-torn Syria in 2016, beginning a journey that would take her to Jordan, and then, to Baltimore. Even though she had cooked at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, she only found work in Baltimore at a tailor shop. But, in 2017, she found a way to pursue her passion again.
Teaming up with Emily Lerman, Aishah Alfadhalah, and several other women at a community meeting, Iman helped develop what ultimately became The Mera Kitchen Collective. This pop-up restaurant and catering business offers immigrants and refugees a rare opportunity to be their own boss, to showcase their talents, and to earn a living wage.
"No one wants to feel like they're always just recipients of help and recipients of aid", says Lerman, who worked at Doctors Without Borders for a number of years before helping create Mera. Five women currently work for the collective, which is cooperatively owned – a business structure that allows each member to feel like "they matter," according to Lerman.
The Mera Kitchen Collective currently operates a stall at the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar, and does catering and pop-up events throughout Baltimore City, often in collaboration with other food vendors. Iman looks forward to opening a brick-and-mortar storefront one day, and says she would love to involve "anybody who identifies as a refugee" in this process.