A cafe run by female refugees has hailed its move from east Oxford to the city centre as “a great success”.

Since moving to a new premises in George Street in April 2022, Damascus Rose Kitchen is now open six days a week, serving Syrian and Middle Eastern cuisine at breakfast and lunch.

The menu includes traditional Syrian dishes such as shakshuka, falafel and tabbouleh.

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Nuha Abdo began the community organisation behind the cafe under the name ‘Syrian Sisters’ in 2016.

Initially she employed just two women to serve food in Flo’s Cafe, in Florence Park in Rymers Lane.

The organisation now employs over 10 refugee women and moved to the central location with the help of the social enterprise, The Old Fire Station, which aims to "empower marginalised communities" in the city.

Mrs Abdo said: “The move was very scary. We knew everyone in east Oxford, and had a strong customer base there.

"We weren’t sure how the people in the centre would respond to us.”

Oxford Mail: One of the dishes at the cafe One of the dishes at the cafe (Image: Damascus Rose Kitchen)

Despite these reservations, she said Damascus Rose Kitchen staff were “overwhelmed” by the positive reaction they received.

Mrs Abdo attributes the cafe’s success to the support of the Old Fire Station.

She added: “They have been very supportive. We couldn’t exist without them.”

The cafe seeks to facilitate the integration of Arabic-speaking female refugees in the Oxford area, providing them with the opportunity to improve their English and participate in society.

Mrs Abdo described how the cafe offers female refugees with the chance to build their confidence.

She said: “Some of these women have never been to school, never been educated or travelled much outside of their hometowns before coming to the UK. Being inserted into a new culture can be very frightening for them.

Oxford Mail: Another dish being served at the cafe Another dish being served at the cafe (Image: Damascus Rose Kitchen)

“The cafe provides a safe environment for them to gain independence. They can improve their English by talking with customers as well.”

Mrs Abdo said food is a powerful way for refugee communities to stay connected with their culture. 

“We cook how our grandmother’s cooked,” she added.

“Hospitality is very important in our countries. We want to share our food and culture with the local community here as a way of giving back.”

Damascus Rose Kitchen aim to reduce their environmental impact by serving only vegetarian dishes, sourcing ingredients locally, and working with Oxford Food Hub to decrease food waste through a redistribution scheme.

The organisation has diversified into private catering, private functions and weddings.

IMrs Abdo said: “We have big dreams. We would love to open another branch at some point and develop our private catering service.”

From the menu she recommends the ‘Mezze Bowl’, which contains falafel, hummus, broad beans and bread.

She cites the dish’s large portion size for its popularity, stating that it is their best-seller.