| 2°C Dublin

Asylum seekers turned foodie entrepreneurs are People of the Month


September Cork Person(s) of the Month, Izz and Eman Alkarajeh

September Cork Person(s) of the Month, Izz and Eman Alkarajeh

September Cork Person(s) of the Month, Izz and Eman Alkarajeh


If proof were needed of the indomitable nature of the human spirit in the face of adversity, then husband and wife Izzeddeen and Eman Alkarajeh must surely be the living embodiment of that.

Having overcome all the odds after moving to a new country, learning a new language and spending time in Direct Provision, the couple have built a new life for themselves, in the process establishing one of Cork's most talked-about eateries.

In honour of their outstanding achievements since arriving in Ireland, the couple have been honoured with the prestigious Cork Person(s) of the Month award for September.

Since it opened, their restaurant, the Izz Cafe on Cork's Quay, has become a 'go to' venue for foodies, with its traditional Palestinian cuisine lauded by some of Ireland's leading food critics.

This is Cork Newsletter

Cork's essential reads in local news and sport, straight to your inbox every week

This field is required

However, it has been far from an easy road to success for the couple, who arrived in Ireland back in 2016 with their young family seeking asylum and facing an uncertain future.

Born in Palestine, Izzeddeen (Izz) grew up in the city of Halhul in the Hebron province of the West Bank, where clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians were an all-too-regular occurrence.

After graduating from university in Jerusalem with a degree in computer science, he struggled to find work and in 1999 was eventually offered a tech job in the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam.

After two years he met Eman, originally from Jordan. The couple married a year later and had four children.

In 2005 they applied to return to Palestine with their family. However, as Eman did not have civilian status in Palestine, and with Izz's contract coming to an end, they were under enormous pressure to find a place for the family to settle.

With time running short after their application to move to Canada fell through when age requirements were changed, the couple were faced with the possibility of having to move back to their home countries - splitting their family.

It was at that point the couple looked towards Europe, arriving in Dublin in September 2016 with their family, applying for asylum and spending a month in the Balseskin Direct Provision centre before being transferred to the Kinsale Road centre, where they were allowed to cook their own food.

While there, Izz completed a 'start-your-own-business' course and, buoyed by the reaction the couple received from people who tried their food, they felt there was room for a Palestinian restaurant in Cork.

A friend put them in contact with Darina Allen who, impressed with their culinary skills, encouraged the couple to spread their wings and put them in contact with her son-in-law, Rupert Hugh-Jones, who runs farmers markets around Cork.

Their traditional ethnic cuisine proved to be an instant hit with market-goers, prompting the decision to open the café, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Izz and Eman said their success would not have been possible were it not for the support of the people of Cork.

"Cork has proved itself a city of sanctuary, a place of welcome and safety for people of migrant origin like ourselves. Being in Direct Provision was challenging for our family, but we are happy to have met some amazing people who have made Izz Café possible," he said.

"The people of Cork have accepted us with open arms, and we are so thankful for their continued support," added Eman.

Awards organiser, Mallow native Manus O'Callaghan, said that, given the Rebel County's reputation for celebrating diversity, it should come as no surprise Cork has given Izz, Eman and their family the opportunity to make a fresh start. "Izz and Eman have an inspiring story of coming to Ireland as asylum seekers and making Cork their home. Their hard work and commitment to introducing the people of Cork to their traditional cuisine and culture is reflected in the popularity of Izz Café. We wish them continued success for the future," he said