DUBAI: Model, actress, humanitarian and entrepreneur, Jessica Kahawaty continues to add achievements to her ever-growing CV. For her latest endeavor, The Australian-Lebanese multi-hyphenate launched a food venture with her mother, Rita Kahawaty.
The duo’s food delivery business, Mama Rita, uses high-quality ingredients and focuses on healthy, home-cooked meals such as beetroot hummus, vegetarian lasagne and mloukhieh.
Meanwhile, Jessica handles the company logistics, focusing on branding, content, photography, copywriting and website design.
Despite launching less than one year ago, the food delivery platform has managed to expand across the country, and now offers deliveries around the capital so Abu Dhabi residents can enjoy the company’s beef stroganoff, traditional kebbe bi laban and oriental rice with lamb.
Arab News asked Jessica about the launch of Mama Rita, her favorite dishes on the menu, and what it was like launching a business during the pandemic.
How did Mama Rita come about?
“For years, people would tell my mother that she should share her food with the world — a restaurant, a food delivery business, anything. When the pandemic started last year, mum got stuck here as she was on a two-week trip from Australia. She stayed with me due to the uncertainty and we finally decided to make the Mama Rita dream come true.”
What are some of your favorite dishes that your mom makes?
“I’ve curated the menu in a way that includes all my favorite dishes. I love her kebbe bi laban, vegetarian lasagna, homemade shawarma. For dessert, the fresh fruit paradise is my absolutely favorite and the cheesecake is the best I’ve ever had.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“We don’t have typical days and each day is completely different which I love. One day could be filled with back-to-back meetings with our PR, social media teams, new projects or the kitchen operations team. Other days could be full of photoshoots or videoshoots. Some days could be in the kitchen working on new recipes.”
Have you picked up any cooking skills since launching the business?
“I’ve never tried to cook, but somehow I instinctively know what should go where. I am the daughter of a chef, after all, so I can’t be completely oblivious. But I’m definitely not the one behind the pots and pans.”
What was it like launching a business during a pandemic?
“The pandemic was a very challenging time for all, however we found many positive aspects. I wasn’t traveling for work at that time, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to sit and focus in Dubai. We decided to launch a food delivery business that is democratically priced as we were sensitive to the social and economic climate around us. People were getting furloughed and had lots of uncertainty in their lives, and what they needed most was a homey meal that was reasonably priced. So for us, the pandemic was an opportunity to enter other people’s homes and bring some comfort.”
How do you balance your fashion career with Mama Rita?
“I am a very meticulous and organized person. If you plan and organize well, you’ll have time to do everything you want to do. I am also very lucky to have a very well-rounded and organized team around me which helps to ease some of the workload.”
You’re a self-proclaimed foodie. Did you always have a healthy relationship with food?
“I’ve always had a very healthy relationship with food. It’s everything to me. I’ve never been on a diet in my life or followed a certain fad. I believe in eating the same way our ancestors ate: Simple, good food made with good ingredients. Keeping the cooking process simple is also very important without any preservatives or heavy/fatty ingredients. We were raised with my mother cooking daily in the cleanest way so it was exciting to see what she had prepared for us daily after school.”
What has been the highlight so far?
“It’s only been seven months since we launched Mama Rita. We have had many milestones, including delivering over 100,000 meals, exploring geographic expansion and introducing new menu items regularly. We just joined Deliveroo, which is fantastic as it allows us to reach people faster and appeal to a wider clientele.”
Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?
“We have a very big announcement on May 31. It’s something we could never have dreamed of so soon into our very young brand. We’re really grateful and can’t wait to share more.”