In a small house off University Parkway, Nada Al Assad has her arms full—of food. I came to meet with Shereen Gomaa, the owner of Delicious by Shereen, a nonprofit aimed at helping refugee women gain financial stability through their love of cooking.
While I sit on a warm, comfortable couch talking with Shereen, Nada continues to bring plate after plate after plate of Syrian staples to the coffee table.
I didn’t show up today with the intention of eating but after Nada loads up a plate of food for me, I can’t say no.
And (no surprise here), it’s actually delicious. Nada, who speaks very little English, smiles in delight with each bite I take.
We’re talking about Mediterranean dishes such as fattoush and stuffed grape leaves, vegetable and spinach turnovers, Mediterranean rice, and sesame cookies.
“A lot of people have never tasted something like this before,” explains Gomaa. “They see the food and they just dive in. They want to experience it and find out how it tastes.”
Fattoush remains one of the most popular dishes of Delicious by Shereen. It’s a fresh, green salad topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, lemon juice, and a homemade pomegranate sauce that serves as dressing.
“I get many compliments on the fattoush salad because it’s so refreshing and fresh,” Gomaa says. “It gives people energy.”
The fattoush is meant to be paired with stuffed grape leaves, which Nada fills with rice, tomatoes, spices, onion, and parsley.
Shereen considers grape leaves to be one of Nada’s specialties.
And specialty cooking skills are important for Shereen. Because the organization’s business model is built upon socially benefiting those in need by helping people help themselves, working for Shereen helps foster dignity rather than just asking for help. She ensures that each woman brings a different set of specialties to the table.
“Each woman is unique in doing something,” Shereen explains. “Nada specializes in the rice and the grape leaves. Other women can do the fattoush, some women are better at hummus. We try to come together and utilize everyone’s special skill.”
Given the growing number of refugee families in Winston-Salem, Delicious by Shereen often rotates between five to 10 families at a time. At the moment, Nada’s situation seems to be the most severe, given the young age of her large family.
Nada and her husband, Mohammed Aba Zaid, moved their family of seven to Winston-Salem from Syria a few years ago. And now as Mohammed battles heart disease and diabetes, he’s unable to work. Delicious by Shereen helps take care of their family by allowing Nada to provide for them while her husband is unable.
“My goal is always to make new friends and be able to help someone and make them happy,” Shereen says. “[Nada’s] husband had surgery about a month ago and he couldn’t work in that span of time, so she’s been helping. She’s so busy but also trying to do her best and push herself to provide for her family.”
Stamp of approval
Shereen and Nada joke that their secret ingredients are love, time, and effort. Judging by their Facebook reviews, they might be on to something.
One 5-star review says, “Shareen’s [sic] food is INCREDIBLE!! A culinary experience that you will not forget!!”
In fact, Delicious by Shereen has a 5/5 rating based on 28 opinions posted. But other professionals also have a high opinion.
“The Syrian community, they really cherish food and celebrating. If you get invited to one of their homes, the amount of work they put into a meal … there’s no comparison,” said Clare Fader, a volunteer with World Relief and local activist in Winston-Salem’s refugee community. “[Delicious by Shereen] is so much more than just food. It’s a way for [the refugees] to feel valued, feel part of the community, and feel pride in something.”
Fader, who’s also a local real estate agent, truly believes in the work of Shereen. “She’s bridging the community through food, and that’s just so powerful.”
Today, Delicious by Shereen is still budding, and has lots of room to grow. The hope is to eventually find a small storefront for takeout and the organization is actively working toward this by seeking donations and capital grants.
In November, however, the organization was awarded a $15,000 community grant at the 13th Annual Luncheon of the Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem. Shereen has big plans for this.
“The grant will be used to develop the skills and capabilities of refugee women that work with Delicious by Shereen,” she explains. “Skills training will be given in financial management, communication skills, and customer service.”
In the meantime, Shereen and the women she works with continue to share their love of cooking and catering with the community.
“We’re all the same in many ways and we want the same things, even if you come from another continent,” she says. “I know that food is the best way to connect people from all around the world, from different cultures and different languages. So we put our heart, minds, and love into our cooking.”
To book Delicious by Shereen for a catering event, visit deliciousbyshereen.com.