Wellington’s Pomegranate Kitchen catering business is changing the lives of refugee women and whetting appetites for Middle Eastern food.
The year-old business was a finalist in the 2017 Welly Awards’ community service section.
It was through her work at the New Zealand Red Cross that co-founder, Rebecca Stewart, saw there were many refugees looking for work but language was a barrier.
Taking inspiration from a refugee catering company in New York, steps to form the not-for-profit organisation began early in 2016 with Ange Wither and Rebecca as co-founders.
They decided on the name of Pomegranate Kitchen – something that was exotic and tasty, reflecting the ingredients the cooks would use.
Pomegranate Kitchen was launched through crowd funding, in October 2016, with a pop-up stall outside Moore Wilson in Tory Street, Wellington.
Rebecca says there was widespread support for the food stall plus many people came forward wanting to do something practical to help the region’s refugees.
They started out by sharing a restaurant kitchen in Tory Street before the move to the current premises at Mojo in Bond Street.
Mojo built a larger kitchen and this allowed Pomegranate to lease the original one. Not only is the site in a central location for staff commuting to work on public transport, from Porirua and Wellington, but it allows cross-promotion with Mojo, which buys their bread for their cabinet food.
Pomegranate Kitchen’s food is prepared for catering orders to serve 10 people or more, and is popular with work meetings. However, they have recently catered for a three-day conference of 170 people.
Popular finger food items are Syrian spinach pies, falafel balls and wraps.
“Everything is made fresh and the flavours are a mix of the familiar and the exotic,” Rebecca says.
“People really remark on it.”
They also do a buffet-style dinner menu with salads.
Pomegranate Kitchen makes boxed baklava that they on-sell to another catering firm.
Currently, Pomegranate Kitchen has eight paid staff – two from Ethiopia, two from Syria and one each from Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. Most speak Arabic or English. Some of the staff have been in New Zealand for several years, while others are recent arrivals.
Their religions are Muslim and Christian. Halal meats are used and pork is avoided.
“The operation runs differently from a standard kitchen because staff cook a lot of their own recipes,” says Rebecca.
The way we work is more about job readiness and working in a team.”
Kitchen skills, organisation and teamwork are a focus.
Some of the women have never been in paid work outside their homes before but head chef, Hajar, had run a pita bread business in Indonesia while part of a refugee group there.
Pomegranate Kitchen tries to offer flexible hours as some of the women have children at school.
Nada, from Iraq, says:
Working at Pomegranate Kitchen is a big thing for me.”
It helps her because she likes to cook, the work provides extra money for her family, and she gets to cook with people she knows.
Genet is from Ethiopia but lived in Egypt before coming to New Zealand. She enjoys her work and appreciates that it provides her with an income, the opportunity to improve her English, and to get to know people.
While Pomegranate Kitchen operates as a business and receives substantial income from the kitchen, it is a charitable trust overseen by a board. They have received grants from the Wellington City Council and a community trust. Rebecca is the paid general manager.
Pomegranate Kitchen relies heavily on orders from new customers so, if you are interested in their work, the best way you can support them is by ordering their food or passing their details onto someone you know who might like to. Check out their options at www.pomegranate.org.nz.
Instagram handle is @Pomegranate_NZ (www.instagram.com/Pomegranate_NZ)