Tiyya Foundation Expands Culinary Program To Help Young Immigrant Mothers Begin Careers


Born in an Ethiopian refugee camp in Somalia, Meymuna Hussein-Cattan and her mother, Owliya Dima, had to acclimate to a new life in Southern California all on their own.

As their own family resettled in the early 1980s, Dima volunteered tirelessly to help others navigate the process as well, inspiring Cattan’s decision to start the nonprofit Tiyya Foundation to continue her mother’s mission to help immigrants and refugees. The word “tiyya” is an Oromo term of endearment, meaning “my dear” or “my love.”

Since 2010, more than 1,000 families have been helped by the foundation with basic needs, education and career placement resources and more as they resettle in the Orange County and the general Southern California region.

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Part of that is through the foundation’s culinary program which includes two branches — Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurant Flavors from Afar nestled in L.A.’s Little Ethiopia community and the foundation’s new education workshops and consultations.

The foundation, based in Santa Ana, opened the restaurant, which it describes as a “social enterprise,” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept began in 2018 after Cattan started a small catering company to financially support the foundation’s mission, but the opportunity to become brick-and-mortar came after a partnership with Christian Davis in 2020.

The restaurant rotates its menu monthly to highlight a different international cuisine, using the recipes and experience of the refugees and immigrants the foundation has partnered with.

Kenna Copes is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education and program instructor and head chef of the restaurant. She works with every refugee to make their dishes ready for service and also helps prepare Flavors’ staff for careers in the culinary industry.

“A refugee chef will come in for a day and curate the menu for the next month with Kenna [Copes],” Tiyya’s Career Placement Specialist Mira Tarabeine said.

Forty percent of the restaurant’s proceeds go directly to supporting the foundation’s programming and the month’s resident chef receives 5 percent of gross sales.

Chef Fary Niang at Flavors from Afar in Los Angeles (Courtesy of Jesse Hsu/Tiyya Foundation) The restaurant’s food caught the eye of the Michelin Guide after being in business for only two years for its affordability and culinary reach. An anonymous Michelin inspector wrote “this is authentic homestyle cooking in the best of ways” when the awards were previewed last November.

“The recipes are inspired by these different experiences,” Tarabeine said. “But you’re not just giving your money away as a donation when you eat there, you’re investing in Michelin food.”

For those not in L.A., the restaurant offers corporate catering and is willing to send staff to cook onsite if a customer is looking for a specific cuisine that isn’t currently on the restaurant’s menu for that month.

Tarabeine, an immigrant herself from Syria, oversees the other branch of the foundation’s culinary program, which seeks to expand culinary industry training beyond just the ability to work at the restaurant.

“We wanted to build out the program,” Tarabeine said. “One chef per month at the restaurant means only 12 chefs a year and our program touches so many more families.”

The workshops offered to Tiyya’s network will go over how to set up an at-home catering business, help immigrants receive food-handling certifications, and go through a step-by-step guidance on how to attain proper licenses for those who want to start their own restaurants.

For those who don’t want to set up their own business, the foundation partners with Shef, an online platform that allows a chef (with the proper certifications) to cook meals at home, deliver them to Shef headquarters, which then distributes the food to customers.

Meena Chand and Subhadra Devi Sami at Flavors from Afar in Los Angeles (Courtesy of Jesse Hsu/Tiyya Foundation) “We’re mainly focusing on women with young children,” Tarabeine said. “This gives them the opportunity to work, be flexible to where they’re at and be accessible.”

Many of the women in the Tiyya community don’t necessarily trust certified child care workers when first arriving in a new area, instead choosing to keep their children home and connect them with their culture as much as possible during the resettlement process.

“We understand the frustration of people coming to this country having managed hundreds of employees back home or have experience in the kitchen and want to open a restaurant here,” Tarabein said. “It’s great, but we have to go step by step.”

In addition to the workshops planned every one to two months, the foundation will offer one-on-one business consultations as well. Ideally, the foundation will be able to connect their community members with culinary professionals around the area and begin a more personal mentorship program as well.

“We’re currently looking for kitchen space to host these workshops in Orange County,” Tarabeine said.

The workshops, which start next month, will be open to the Tiyya Foundation community. To become a member, information can be found on the foundation’s website. For those who want to support the foundation’s efforts or attend their public gatherings and fundraisers, information can also be found on the website.


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