Student Spotlight

Manal Kahi MPA'15

Posted Dec 19 2023
Manal Kahi

Eat Offbeat is a social enterprise founded by SIPA alum Manal Kahi '15 in 2015. Eat Offbeat is a catering business in NYC where 100% of their culinary team are refugees.

Company : Eat Offbeat
Location: New York City

Why We Love Eat Offbeat

Eat Offbeat is not only one of the most innovative and interesting ventures out there, but one of the smarter solutions we have seen to the massive challenge of refugee unemployment -- a challenge fueled in part by our inability to understand how to transfer skills or translate credentials.

Eat Offbeat’s unique solution: Combine the best recipes from across the globe with native chefs who can make their cuisine better than anyone here could... while employing the otherwise unemployable in secure, well paid jobs – and dramatically changing lives in the process.

Immigrants have been making food for New Yorkers since New York came into being and today the restaurant industry is the 2nd largest employer of immigrants, yet most of them never make it past minimum wage. Eat Offbeat is changing that: they offer competitive salaries and put all the focus on their chefs, highlighting their achievements in a way that makes them proud of what they do.

Manal’s Entrepreneurial Journey

Manal, who is from Lebanon, came to study Economic and Political Development (EPD) at SIPA in 2013. Not finding hummus up to the standards set by her Syrian grandmother, she decided to make her own. Soon everyone wanted Manal’s delicious, authentic hummus. This gave Manal a brilliant idea that would lead to what is now a highly successful venture which not only provides high quality, yummy ethnic cuisine to New Yorkers, but provides an amazing professional experience to a dozen refugee chefs who hail from countries across the globe including Afghanistan, Syria, Nepal, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka. Manal’s logic: Who better to bring Syrian food to New York than Syrian Refugees?

Running a High Impact Business

Manal sets goals for her high impact business and measures her success and social impact against these goals. She has two main objectives: 1) create quality jobs for refugees and 2) change the stigma surrounding refugees by bridging the cultural divide between refugees and the people who eat their food.

Manal’s Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

The hardest part about being an entrepreneur is that I am always working. But I do love the independence that comes with running a company that is completely my own. My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that you need to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, you should engage in practical optimism and humility, and take a leap of faith! And don’t worry too much about your grades and focus on the things that matter -- such as the skills you are learning and the people you meet while at SIPA.

Favorite Place on Campus or Best SIPA Memory: 

The steps of Low Library in the sunshine.

More about Eat Offbeat: