Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for the rest of his life. You've probably heard this saying before, thrown at you by a parent or teacher trying to spark some motivation. But occasionally, the context behind this old proverb is much more worthy. Enter: Four Brave Women, a restaurant in Summer Hill with a kitchen full of flavourful food and a team full of ambition.
The newest venture from not-for-profit organisation The Trading Circle invites refugee families into the kitchen at the Lackey Street store for intensive eight-week placements. The view is to provide them with the experience and funds for their own business ventures as they begin life in Australia.
For decades, The Trading Circle has been supporting individuals and groups, mainly women, globally to break through poverty. Schemes include working with groups across Thailand and the Philippines to trade handmade goods, teaching local school kids about social justice and supporting women fleeing domestic violence in Australia via the Circle of Hope Project. Each initiative focuses on using a compelling but intangible tool: self-empowerment. And Four Brave Women — named to commemorate the four nuns who launched Good Shepherd (which originally established The Trading Circle project) — is no exception.
"At the end of the eight weeks, what we want for them[the refugee families] is confidence, experience and the reality of running a business," CEO Bindi Lea says. "But we also want them to walk away with capital. It's very empowering for them."
As well as raising a projected $30,000, each family experiences the intense reality of running a full-time business without having to commit to a lease or purchase equipment. "At the end of it," Lea tells us. "I want them to say 'that was really bloody hard — but we could do this' or 'we could do this, but not a restaurant — let's do something smaller'."
The inaugural trainee group is an Iranian family led by head chef and baker Zahra. Across lunch and dinner, six days a week, the family is serving up hearty, authentic dishes, buffet-style. Visitors select a plate size — small ($10), medium ($13) or large ($16) — and serve themselves saffron chicken drumsticks, ghourmeh sabzi (a lamb and red bean stew), lubia polo (buttery rice) and kashk-e bademjan (a spiced eggplant dip). The food is tasty and different to fare typically found in the inner west, offering a unique dining experience for customers in more ways than one.
Serving buffet-style is an intentional move, too: it gives trainees the opportunity to interact with customers, thereby improving their English. Plus, it teaches them to translate family recipes into commercial quantities. The latter is done under the guidance of former fine-dining chef Kate Spina (Cafe Paci, Flying Fish), a Summer Hill local who "just walked in off the street and asked to how she could help", according to Lea.
At launch, the Trading Circle team was heavily involved, with Lea noting that both herself and Spina were working side-by-side with Zahra and her family all day. Things have eased off now with the family confidently ordering stock, running the kitchen and tills and managing the accounting. With their placement soon to end, The Trading Circle is currently in talks with a Syrian group for the next eight-week cycle.
Lea works with Ignite, a group within Settlement Services International, to get in touch with refugees with previous business experience and future business plans. Outside of these eight-week placements, there is also a longer term placement running, currently occupied by Ethiopian refugee Adi Tefera. Tefera will take the breakfast shift over the next 12 months serving coffee and Ethiopian breakfast snacks including teff (a gluten-free grain) chocolate brownies.
Lea tells us that she is 'blown away' by the response from the inner west community and beyond, noting that some customers travel well over an hour to check out the venue.
"Zahra's husband Hassan said to me the other night 'not many Iranians are coming in'," Lea says. "I said, 'is that upsetting you?' and his response was 'no, it's good. I get to share my culture with so many cultures'. They are realising that people are here to support them."
Images: Russell Barrett.