Syrian refugee starts catering business in Calgary

As Syrian refugees begin new lives in Alberta, finding work can be a big challenge. So one Calgary newcomer, Rita Khenchet, is overcoming that hurdle by starting her own catering business.

Rita Khenchet hopes startup business will soon help other refugees

Rita Khenchet has been operating out of her basement apartment for two weeks. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

In her basement kitchen, Rita Khenchet whips up a batch of kibbeh — a Syrian staple of minced meat mixed with cracked wheat, onions and spices.

Rita Khenchet, her husband and son arrived on the first plane to Canada from Lebanon last December. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

She and her husband arrived in Canada with their five-year-old son in December.

They had $5,000 and little else. The family receives no government support.

Khenchet is a broadcast engineer and her husband is a lawyer. They've had a hard time finding work.

"And we began to think about something different ... to depend on ourselves, because we have to depend on ourselves."

Made with love

They decided to start a catering business called 'Syrian Cuisine Made with Love'.

"I already like cooking. It's a hobby for me. And we have to find something to survive," says the Aleppo native who has spent the last few years in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon.

A vounteer from the Syrian Refugee Support Group Calgary helps Rita Khenchet navigate a supermarket. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

"We make a Facebook page. We put some pictures of dishes. And the idea start like that," she added.

The business is only two weeks old, but Khenchet already has plans to expand.

"I want to have a place for the women who don't have places. Like Syrian women, they come here with no skills, no education, nothing, because they spent the last five years in the camps or moving from one place to another escaping the dangers."

Kibbeh is a Syrian staple of minced meat mixed with cracked wheat, onions and spices. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

As she works on her English and upgrades her education, Khenchet hopes to bring a taste of Syria to Calgary.

"It's a good experience, because I want the Canadian people to taste the Mediterranean food, because it's a little bit different."

With files from the Julien Lecacheur and Alison Dempster