Columbia Bizcast: Wissam Kahi ’04

The startup Eat Offbeat turns refugees into chefs who share their homeland’s cuisines.

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It began with a food craving.

A native of Lebanon, Wissam Kahi ’04 had been living in New York City for more than a decade when he and his sister, Manal Kahi SIPA ’15, discovered a gaping hole in the US food market: the hummus was sub-par. Using their Syrian grandmother’s recipe, they made their own hummus, shared it with friends to great reception, and immediately saw the commercial appeal of bringing home-cooked international cuisine to New Yorkers.

The siblings soon launched the catering company Eat Offbeat with startup funding from the Center for Social Ventures at Columbia. Their business not only meets a consumer demand for authentic cultural dishes, but also has a social mission to integrate refugees from Syria and other countries by hiring them as chefs to share their homeland’s recipes.

“I’m having a hard time imagining how something like this could have happened without [my Business School] background,” says Wissam, nodding to his foundational experience at Columbia.

“At the end of the day, what will make the customer come back is because they really love the food and they found something different and super tasty and high quality,” he says. “They may come to us first because they think, ‘Okay. There's a social mission there. Hey, we should try out this company and support refugees.’ They will not come back unless the food is amazing.”

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