Izzeddeen Akarajeh and his wife Eman are celebrating two years since the opening of Izz Café in what the couple described as “the best community in Ireland”.
Izzeddeen and Eman Akarajeh set up Izz Café at 14 George’s Quay after they came to Ireland with their four children seeking asylum.
In 2016, the family arrived in Ireland and applied for asylum which was granted to them after one year.
After spending a short time in a Direct Provision Centre in Dublin when they first arrived, the family were moved to another centre in Cork and later decided to remain in the Rebel County once their asylum application was approved.
In May 2019, they opened Izz Café.
After just two years, the couple has been faced with the challenge of adapting their new business to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, despite the challenges they have faced, Izz, Eman and their business have proved to be a massive hit amongst Corkonians.
Recently, Izz Café was named as the Best Café at the Cork Business Association (CBA) Awards and in September, the couple were awarded Cork persons of the month.
“It’s really wonderful and we felt it was a short time to achieve what we have achieved so far,” said Izz of their two-year anniversary.
“It’s really a good indication of the success of our business.”
When the family first came to Cork, Izz said that they struggled to find Palestinian cuisine and food options for their children and the father of four began his own research.
While still living in Direct Provision, Izz completed a ‘start-your-own-business’ course through and the family were put in touch with Darina Allen who encouraged them to embark on the business idea.
“We thought that there was potential for our cuisine here,” he explained.
However, when they first started out, Izz said that they did not have the money to set up the business and began at Mahon Point Famers’ Market where their food proved to be extremely popular.
“Our reputation started building up while at the farmers' market.”
After just one year, Izz Café on George’s Quay was born.
The café serves Palestinian cuisine with most of the cooking done by Eman while Izz focuses on the management side of the business.
Izz described the family’s placement in Cork as “one of the good lucks” they have had.
“Even when we had our status and discussed our options to go back to Dublin or any other city, our kids were crying. They didn’t want to leave Cork.
"They [feel] that they are home.”
During the pandemic, Izz Café has been providing takeaway meals and delivery for customers in line with restrictions but with Covid-19 hitting just before the couple celebrated the first year of their business, they were “very nervous” about the potential impact.
“Initially it [the pandemic] made us very nervous. We thought that it was very, very bad luck to be hit by a pandemic before even finishing one year but we had to work hard and do our best to stay open and continue.
“Fortunately, I believe we avoided a lot of the implications of the pandemic.”
However, Izz and Eman are looking forward to greeting their customers in person once again.
“Many people are coming from outside of Cork and they say that they miss our food, and they want to dine in and we miss seeing them.”
With a remarkable two years behind them, Izz and Eman are hoping to celebrate many more years on George’s Quay and are looking forward to the future and grateful for what they described as an amazing community in Cork.
The couple are hoping to expand their business and continue providing great food to the people of Cork and beyond.
“We feel the love and we feel the support of the community,” added Izz.