The Public Market recently unveiled its latest food offering in partnership with the La Cocina incubator program. Mama Lamees “Feast From the Middle East” soft-opened on September 10 after announcing their intent to open last May.
La Cocina and The Public Market have established an impressive track record of success thus far, including helping launch Nyum Bai and Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement. Nyum Bai opened a wildly popular full-service restaurant in East Oakland at the end of their lease and Minnie Bell’s signed a long-term lease at their own stall. Both establishments were honored recently as SF Chronicle Top-100 picks.
Lamees’ Culinary Journey Begins in Kuwait
Mama Lamees Proprietor and Chef Lamees Dahbour’s family originates from the West Bank city of Ramallah. Dahbour herself was born and raised in Kuwait as the middle child among ten siblings.
The beginning of her culinary journey began her mother’s kitchen at the age of 10.
Previously, Dahbour worked in business administration with the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA). It was a job that led her around the Middle East. She then immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 2006.
She eventually found the courage to leave the abusive marriage she was in and went through some challenging times as a single mother of three.
She settled in San Francisco’s Mission District where she continued to raise her daughter Lubna and sons Tahseen and Ziyad. She credits her mother and grandmother for passing down values and practices that she now hopes to pass on to her own children.
La Cocina’s Focus on Women Immigrants and People of Color
Mama Lamees had quite the grassroots beginning. Dahbour had prepared meals for some of her children’s middle and high school events. She remembered the positive reactions she received — as well as from beyond the school community — like that of the manager of the complex the family lived in.
This same manager would go on to contact La Cocina to sing high praise of Dahbour and in January 2015, Dahbour began her La Cocina training in legal, marketing and financial matters. She had received encouraging feedback from numerous food experts who sampled the 13 different dishes that Dahbour cooked during her La Cocina interview.
Dahbur also gained more know-how during workshops she attended for Latinx and immigrant entrepreneurs at the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).
It was one of Dahbour’s sisters who helped with the business plan, which took about eight months. In 2016, Dahbour launched her catering business out of a kitchen along Folsom Street. All her children are involved in some aspect of the family business, whether it was monitoring social media or managing finances.
Dahbour said that her children are just “a drive or a short flight away from mom if she needs help” with the business.
Mama Lamees has since operated out of La Cocina’s industrial-sized kitchen. The space has four ovens, reminding Dahbour of the large kitchen that was at her home in her birthplace. “It’s my dream to build a kitchen like that,” Dahbour said. Her daughter, Lubna added that “La Cocina provides the resources and it’s up to us to take advantage of them.”
The Dahbour family will continue to operate their catering business that now has seven employees.
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Halal, Kosher, Vegan and Gluten-Free Options
Tahseen, Dahbour’s middle child, described Middle Eastern food as having a complex yet balanced flavor profile. To him, “it’s all about the balance,” as he said that there can be more than a dozen different spices used in one go.
The menu served at The Public Market will highlight weekly specials to introduce the community to different types of Palestinian food, Dahbour said. All items are halal or kosher and the meat is sourced from a local butcher in San Francisco.
“We’d never feed our customers non-Halal food,” Dahbor added. “We love to show the uniqueness of the true nature of Halal cooking. People love our chicken because of how we serve it.”
The menu also offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Bringing People Together Through Food
Dahbour recalled a time that showed just how powerful food can be in bringing people together. At an Off the Grid event in March 2013, Dahbour served a group of Israelis who — despite the complicated and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict — came to the food truck gathering in support of Mama Lamees.
“Food on the table brings people and peace together; I feel like the food business is about honesty,”
“Food on the table brings people and peace together; I feel like the food business is about honesty,” said Dahbour. “I’ve focused on making customers who come back to me.”
Menu items include Musakhan (baked pita bread with caramelized onions, roasted almonds and sprinkled sumac spice from Palestine), Ejja (cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic fritters served with Mama Lamees’ Labneh Sauce) and Chicken Skewers that are cooked for 48 hours. They’ll also serve middle-eastern staples including Baba Ghanouge, Palestinian Sage Tea and Baklava. View their full menu at mamalamees.com.
Mama Lamees is expected to hold an official grand opening event within a couple weeks (regular business hours to follow). The stall is under a six month lease with an option to extend.
Feature Image: Dahbour and her daughter Lubna.