Women Owned Restaurant in Saudi Arabia Breaking New Ground

Hi Jenny – this Saudi woman could be interesting for you to write about her” my half-Kuwaiti half-Saudi friend started her email to me the other day.

In the coastal city of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, an occurence has taken place that hasn’t yet reached English international news. The Saudi woman Nora Almoqateeb was able to open a new restaurant-concept in her own name, kitchen-run by all female, despite public pressure not to. When Nora came up with the concept for the restaurant Nooryat, the first official employee receiving the application refused to give her the license to open restaurant. As Nora describes in the video (unfortunately available in Arabic only):

“He threw the file in the drawer and said ‘Are you crazy? You want to mess up the country and the women? It’s forbidden!'”

But she didn’t give up instead went to research in the local laws. She didn’t find any single Saudi law preventing her and in the end she managed to get the license, then employed Saudi women to work with her in the kitchen. She says:

“I felt I was gunpowder wanting to explode. It exploded! I was determined to get the license.”

When Nora opened the restaurant Nooryat she was afraid to go there alone. The restaurant was watched all the time by people who want to try and find small mistakes so that the restaurant could be closed down. Nora’s female worker are all Saudi, and despite being proud of their job some of them are ashamed to admit that they are working as cooks, and are afraid to give their full name. But despite the resistance Nora didn’t cave in and the staff says that they admire Nora and consider her a great female idol for all Saudi women. Nora has been so determined to carry out her business that she sometimes sleeps in the restaurant when she has a big order to deliver. In fact the word Nooryat is associated to the Arabic word for light, such as the light that lights up a house.

Along the way she had big support from her own father, and the owner of the building where to restaurant resides says:

“The main problem is that men don’t except the idea that a woman leaves her home, work in a commercial building, and cook for people”.

Now the restaurant has been nominated to the local Israr Award for 2014 – “Israr” meaning “Determination”. Let’s keep our fingers crossed she will win.

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