Home-based food businesses, which are easy to set up and do not require a big starting capital, encourage women to become part of the workforce and support their families, create job opportunities, and stimulate the local economy.
Manar Harb has always been known for her delicious cooking. “I’ve been rolling vine leaves with my mother ever since I was a little girl, cooking has always been a big part of my life”. She was always an active member in different associations in the north of Jordan and has provided catering services for different events. With a supportive husband, three children and an active social life, things were going well for Manar who lived in a somewhat conservative part of Irbid. But it all changed after her husband passed away a few years ago. She suddenly found herself alone with three young men to raise and without an income. On top of that, she was faced with legal problems related to the house they were living in, and was forced to move to an older, smaller house with her children.
She had only one choice; to survive. Since cooking was what she did best, the reasonable thing to do was to cook from home and sell her food. Her customers were mainly family and acquaintances and she relied solely on word of mouth to bring in more customers. She was able to make just enough money for her family to get by, and for three years, she cooked day and night just to cover basic expenses and send her sons to university.
Setting up a home-based food business can have many challenges such as power outages, the lack of certain kitchen equipment and appliances, which if available are often expensive, as well as limited space and cooking capacity. This meant it was important, if not necessary for Manar to expand from a home-based to a commercial business. So she applied to a small business grant from the Local Enterprise Support Project funded by USAID Jordan to be able to take this step.
While there is no shortage of restaurants in Irbid, Manar tapped into a niche market: tasty homemade meals. It took her about 2 years to rent and open her production kitchen, even with the support of the project. Problems kept coming out of the woodwork and that slowed her down a great deal.
But she finally opened her new place just in time for Ramadan 2017, and the orders started flowing in right away. “I receive a lot of orders every day, but I cannot take more than five. Once I expand more and hire more workers, I think I’d be able to accept as many orders as I get”. Manar’s expansion allowed her to hire 3 women to help her in the kitchen, as well as work with her two sons who help with the delivery of orders and deal with suppliers. She expects to double her current net profit to 500 JOD ($700) per month when in the near future.
“Sometimes when I receive big orders, my sons help me with preparing the food. It’s unusual for young men to cook where we come from, but they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help me”.
Manar says that orders must be placed one or two days ahead. Her prices are affordable for everyone, as she takes into account her customers’ financial situation. She charges a reasonable price of 15 JOD ($15 - $20) for a meal big enough to feed a family of five.
“In five years, I hope I’d have a team of 12 or 15 women brought together by their love for cooking, and I want to have a restaurant that serves hearty, home-cooked meals that extends across this entire street!” said Manar while pointing at the far end of the street in her hometown in Irbid, with a big smile on her face.