By Savannah Fonseca
Published on BuzzFeed Nov 2019
“Creating my own business has been empowering and rewarding. I love the creativity it offers and the range of potential it has.” – Elli Kriel
Elli Kriel is a trailblazing businesswoman who made history by being the first to provide kosher food services in the United Arab Emirates. She is also a mother, wife and intricately involved in the Jewish community - an incredible feat. But before she slips into her Wonder Woman costume every morning, there are many goals to meet, battles to face and balls to juggle. After all, if anyone knows what it means to work full-time, it’s a mom.
In the past, women were either stay-at-home moms or they worked outside the home, not both. Today, moms are finding ways to pursue their passions while at the same time caring for their children and a business. Elli is one such woman who is taking the reigns and inspiring many other women in her community. From behind the scenes of her busy lifestyle, we chat to her about how she manages to balance motherhood with a thriving new business.
Originally from Johannesburg in South Africa, Elli’s family moved to Dubai in 2013. She founded Elli’s Kosher Kitchen in 2019 after noticing a niche gap in the market for prepared kosher food in the UAE to meet the growing community of Jewish travellers. A foodie at heart, Elli turned her passion into a flourishing business by providing wholesome, home-cooked kosher meals delivered to guests at their hotels.
Women who come to the UAE for their husbands’ job often give up their careers and focus on raising their children. As a dependent, this also means they don’t always have access to the finance required to start their own business, which is often the most challenging aspect of launching oneself without economic support. This can be both discouraging and daunting.
“Women carry tremendous responsibilities, and by enabling them to be financially independent, it not only makes a valued contribution to the household income, but it makes a great difference in personal self-esteem and self-worth too”, Elli says.
A report by Arabnet and Dubai SME revealed that only one in seven start-ups receiving funding in the Middle East were owned by a woman. While this challenge is not only financial, it also speaks to the social pressure that is influenced by the norms and traditions that play a big role in stressing the importance of getting a job to secure a living rather than venturing into entrepreneurship and trying something new. Although this number is on par with the global average, it’s expected to rise with women’s participation in the startups world. The share of female-founded startups in MENA ranged between 8% and 19% in the past five years.
As a female-driven start-up company, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen works in partnership with local Emirati women, forming part of the UAEs vision for gender development in business. This helps create a strong message of support for local Jewish business and the community in the UAE.
Being the first to do what she does, Elli noted she had not encountered any challenges as a Jewish business owner living in the UAE, but rather was met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“I have received great excitement and support. This is because in many hotels, the staff have been unable to assist kosher guests with food. In this environment of extremely high level of service and hospitality, it is terribly worrying to hotels that they cannot meet the needs of their clients. That’s why when they hear about my kosher food service, they are excited and supportive.”
It comes as no secret that running your own business is hard work and long hours. Pair that with caring for a family and being an involved member in your community, and it’s a tricky act to balance – one which often comes at the expense of long hours. As a two-person team in the business, a typical day in Elli’s life is filled with juggling motherhood responsibilities, tending to client requests and preparing meals.
“My day starts by waking up at 6am, making the kids’ lunches and getting them to school. I do two hours of admin work to catch up on orders and mail clients, and then start cooking and bringing groceries in. I cook until it’s time to fetch the kids and take them to after-school activities before returning around 6 or 7pm. While on the road, I manage a staff member who completes the orders. I also order the driver and dispatch the food from my mobile as I am ferrying the kids around the city. At this point I also make plans for dinner, answer calls and texts about orders and get the kids home. After the kids are in bed, I return to my computer and often work well after midnight. Fridays, are slightly different as the kids don’t have school (it’s weekend) and rather than heading to the beach, I am preparing for Friday night supper and getting orders out for visitors to Dubai. On Saturdays, I crash and spend most of my time at home and have a nice long nap in the afternoon. I’m very aware of the importance of work-life balance, which I’m working on. I think it all comes down to delegating tasks to meet the growing demands from clients, and carving out time for oneself and quality family time.”
With her closest friend being the Forbes Magazine Best Arab Business Woman for the past seven consecutive years, Elli understands firsthand how important it is to be surrounded by supportive women who act as a pillar of strength during challenging times.
“When starting your own business, it’s imperative to have a mentor or someone who inspires you to keep going. Believing in yourself is vital, too. Remember to always trust your intuition, have a positive outlook and flow with what comes your way. Be open and receptive to opportunities and learn from others.”
So, what’s next for Elli’s Kosher Kitchen? “So many exciting plans in the pipeline! A commercial kitchen, full time executive chef, bespoke tour packages, attending the Expo 2020 and an exciting new location in Abu Dhabi”, exclaims Elli.
When asked about what advice she would give other women who are considering starting their own business, “Don’t hesitate… take the plunge! The psychological benefits far outweigh the risks involved. We are women, and we can do it!”
Having already been featured in international publications, Ellis Kosher Kitchen is certainly a small business to watch. You can follow and support Elli’s journey on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and visit the website here.