“It wasn’t until I came to Stockholm where I realised I missed traditional, authentic, Arabic cuisine…”
Experienced accountant and lover of homemade Palestinian food, Walaa Tebakhi, founder of Sweet O Salti Food Studio, is seeking to enrich the lives of Stockholmers with the tastes of Palestine. Since moving to Stockholm in 2015, Walaa originally set up Sweet O Salti as a YouTube channel to offer food tutorials and inspiration for Arabic cuisine. Since then, Sweet O Salti has become a culinary brand, with Walaa offering private catering services and delivering delicious, authentic, homemade food. With her catering business flourishing, Walaa has also provided catering services to both the private and public sectors, working with the 2018 White Guide nominated organisation Gastronaut and providing hearty meals for Sophiahemmet, one of Stockholm’s central healthcare clinics.
Walaa’s vision for Sweet O Salti is to provide much more than just a catering service. With the ambition of expanding her brand, Walaa opened Sweet O Salti Food Studio in October 2020: a restaurant and cafe specialising in Palestinian food based in central Stockholm. The restaurant serves authentic Palestinian lunches during the week, along with an idea of ‘international fika’ to offer newly-arrived chefs to Sweden a chance to sell their homemade pastries and collaborate with other chefs who are new to Stockholm.
Having moved between cities in Palestine, including Ramallah and Bethlehem, Walaa has enjoyed restaurant hopping as a way to get to know her local area and experience new flavours. Despite not being a certified chef herself, her love of food and dining is what led her to turn Sweet O Salti into much more than a YouTube channel. Walaa has big dreams for her restaurant and cafe, not only to provide a catering service to offer authentic Palestinian cuisine, but also to act as a ‘kitchen studio’ whereby inspired chefs can learn and practice their culinary skills.
How did Walaa’s background in accounting help her create Sweet O Salti Studio? When it came to transforming her brand into a reality, Walaa talks about how her expertise in accountancy helped her to navigate the process, “it helped me a lot because I knew the financial side of managing a business, which was particularly useful during the early stages”. As an entrepreneur, she emphasises the need for more kitchen hubs within Stockholm. Walaa aims to open up her studio to host workshops designed for new chefs to develop their culinary skills and network with fellow chefs in the community.
“In the next year, I want to open a kitchen hub in partnership with Stockholm stad to offer learning opportunities for chefs who want to develop and practice their culinary skills – I would love to do a workshop once a week, whereby people can rent stations and do their catering from the studio…”
The costs of renovating and redesigning her studio to accommodate more trainee chefs are high. However, new entrepreneurs have been lifting the entire food sector and have helped Stockholm’s progress in becoming a leading food tech hub. The Swedish restaurant industry has increased annually between 2008 – 2018 with a net turnover of 115 billion SEK and over 102,900 employees. The growth of the restaurant industry can be credited to the influence of international cuisine and diversity of cultures that offer greater variety and creativity with food. The greater number of authentic ethnic restaurants has made Stockholm’s food scene more dynamic and full of different flavours and cultural experiences. When discussing the somewhat limited options of Arabic food most commonly available on restaurant menus (i.e kebabs), Walaa wants to offer the depth and variety of flavour that comes with authentic Arabic cuisine: “people get bored of Arabic food currently on the market, so I try to add various different homemade dishes”. Walaa’s restaurant and kitchen studio concept is seeking to promote creativity and a celebration of different nationalities and cuisine, especially as she encourages the idea of mamma’s cooking, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing more heart-warming than that!
Through Sweet O Salti Studio and her catering services, Walaa offers authenticity, creativity and an opportunity for new chefs to develop their culinary skills. Through this kitchen hub concept, Walaa hopes to focus on support for women who have a passion in cooking and want to develop their skills in order to find job opportunities in the food industry, or perhaps even open up their own catering kitchen.
In offering a studio to host workshops, to develop skill sets and to form networks targeted to help women, this initiative provides a solution to reducing the uneven gender distribution between foreign-born men and women finding work in Sweden. According to a report by the Swedish Public Employment Service, more men than women among new arrivals are given the opportunity to participate in job-oriented training such as work placements, apprenticeships and subsidised jobs.
The studio concept has already been proven to work towards strengthening work integration of migrant women. Yalla Trappan, a social enterprise set up in Malmo in partnership with the Swedish Employment Service and the City of Malmo, provides an introduction to work-experience for foreign-born women who lack professional experience or educational qualifications and find themselves furthest away from the Swedish labour market. They offer 3 types of studio to provide hands-on-experience and a networking point for women entering the labour market; a cafe and catering business that offers kitchen space, a sewing and design studio and a cleaning and conference service.
These types of partnerships between government agencies and social enterprises highlight the tangible, local benefits in providing inclusive and resourceful spaces for immigrant women struggling to enter the labour market. In offering a space not only to develop their culinary craft, but also network with like-minded individuals who face similar challenges when entering the Swedish labour market, Walaa’s Food Studio seeks to create a sense of inclusion and forging new relationships.
To keep Stockholm’s restaurant and cafe industry thriving, in a time when we are encouraged to eat-in or takeaway rather that eat-out at restaurants, there is a need for solution-oriented entrepreneurs like Walaa to offer kitchen hubs for culinary creatives to expand their expertise, start their own unique culinary adventures and adapt to a ‘COVID-friendly’ landscape. In supporting locally owned establishments rather than huge franchises, we can ensure that the city continues to flourish in culinary creativity and cultural diversity within the restaurant and cafe industry. We will not only fill our bellies with delicious dishes, but we’ll be creating social impact along the way… the perfect win-win situation!
Sweet O Salti Studio is located on Birger Jarlsgatan 99B, open Monday – Friday 11:00-18:30. Interested in renting out a kitchen space or looking for a delicious and efficient catering service? Find out more on the website www.sweetosalti.se or contact Walaa on social media: Instagram or Facebook
Caitlin Metcalfe-Bliss is a Community Host at Impact Hub Stockholm. With an interest in migration and social change, she is interested in exploring how social enterprises encourage integration and inclusion for newly arrived migrants.