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Cooking up a fresh start – New bakery offering refugee chef a chance to begin again

Food and friendship: At Abboud Bakery (from left) Mellita, Coco Bliss franchisee Gus Khcheiche, Syrian refugee Basim, chef George Tabbakh, Dimi, and Angelo Anthony.

By Mark Bowling 

A REFUGEE chef from war-torn Syria is working towards a fresh start in Australia by sharing his culinary skills and culture at a new bakery-cafe south of Brisbane.

After fleeing Aleppo with his young Catholic family two years ago, George Tabbakh, a third-generation baker, is now making Lebanese bread and Middle Eastern treats in suburban Underwood, with the backing of lawyer Angelo Anthony and Coco Bliss franchisee Gus Khcheiche.

“When you see the spark in someone’s eye it’s really fulfilling,” Mr Anthony said, describing the experience of meeting Mr Tabbakh and his wife and three children, and deciding to support him to rebuild a career as a bakery chef.

“We were fortunate enough to sit down and talk to George and his family, and we felt the calling to help them.”

With their own Middle Eastern backgrounds, Mr Anthony and Mr Khcheiche could see the opportunities for Mr Tabbakh and other refugees with food industry skills, but who needed assistance to bridge the language barrier and start running a business.

The partnership was cemented after an invitation to attend the baptism of Mr Tabbakh’s daughter at St Clement’s Melkite Church, South Brisbane. 

“We got to understand George’s family and his background and what he had to go through in Syria, and to come here and be grateful that there is a roof over his head,” Mr Khcheiche said.

“He’s lost family and had issues, and to come to this country and you see how grateful they are and how humble they are and how excited they are to start again.

“I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. I am not anywhere near as resilient as they are.”

Mr Khcheiche said it was a remarkable team effort between new staff members and friends that led to Abboud Bakery opening on December 10.  

He hoped that in a couple of years Mr Tabbakh would own the business.

“I think Brisbane is lacking in Middle Eastern food with a mixture of western food and the concept of a bakery-cafe, and I am eager to see customers learn more about George, his culture and food,” Mr Khcheiche said.

The bakery will serve traditional delicacies, including shakshuka dishes, meat bakery treats with kafta and lahembajin pizzas, alongside coffees and teas served in traditional and western styles.

Also on offer will be baklava and knafe, a traditional dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry infused with a sugar-based syrup, layered with cheese and ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts.

“We see this as a great way to give migrants arriving in Australia a helping hand to start their new life in this wonderful country,” Mr Anthony said.

“Our intention is to make Abboud Bakery a beacon of hope in the community and to encourage our staff to be ambassadors for our culture and diversity everywhere.”

Abboud Bakery is open every day from 9am at Underwood Marketplace on Logan Road, Underwood.

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