Bringing the flavors of Morocco to Pennsylvania (ASSETS at 30: Part 1)

Bushra Fahier owns Flavors of Morocco. | Photo by Mike Strathdee

Woman’s desire to share the love of her culture sparks thriving business

When Bushra Fahier immigrated to Canada from Morocco in 2010, she had no plans to start a business. Living in Hamilton, Ontario as a single mother with two children, she had trouble finding work in her profession. She has a doctorate in physics, but Canadian institutions only saw this as equivalent to a master’s degree. She remarried in 2011 and moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2017. Her future career got its start in Canada.

Not finding a Moroccan community, restaurants, or grocery stores in Hamilton, she tried to create Moroccan-themed parties and events to share that culture. “The passion, it came with the love of my country.” Through those parties, friends encouraged her to do catering. Fahier resisted. In her culture, working in hospitality and cooking was seen as a step down.

But as people kept calling her to do catering, she relented. She also sold her food at farmers’ markets and special events. “It got popular.” After the move to Lancaster, she decided to continue event catering. Working from home, the first event she did was a sell-out success, and phone inquiries continued.

In 2018, she opened a storefront at a farmers’ market in Lititz, a nearby community. She had loyal customers and built up a database over two years until the COVID pandemic in 2020 shut down the market. Her family moved to a 250-year-old abandoned farmhouse. Fahier did French and Arabic translations to make ends meet. Former customers called her, saying they missed her food. Fahier replied that she had no space to prepare food for them. “One time, a lady just showed up in my kitchen.”

Seeing dinner cooking on the stove, the woman asked if she could have some. Then another customer showed up. Fahier relented and started cooking in her basement. Customers did a GoFundMe campaign for her, sending her $3,500. That money allowed her to work on basement wiring and making a proper kitchen. ASSETS heard about her efforts and provided a $5,000 grant that allowed her to finish the kitchen.

In January 2021, she began advertising a takeout Moroccan-Indian fusion menu. Once the weather warmed up, people began asking about having picnics in her backyard. “I told my husband, maybe we have to do something nice for people to sit down.” They built a gazebo in the backyard, including tables and cushions on the floor. Word of mouth spread quickly. “By June 2021, I’ve got people lined up on the stairs, waiting for a place to sit.” Her sister, who lives in Oklahoma, and several other friends started helping out. As business increased, they began buying chairs, tables, umbrellas, and other furnishings.

Fahier took an online training course. Then she got a $10,000 grant from ASSETS. By the fall of 2021, customers were showing up from neighboring states. Customers asked her what she would do in the winter. ASSETS asked if she would apply to become a vendor at Southern Market. The new market manager, and two other people who she didn’t know were chefs, came to her home to try her food. “They loved it, and the manager told me — ‘we would be happy to have you.’”

Flavors of Morocco opened at Southern Market in January 2022. “Since then, I am ranking first at the market” in terms of sales and return customers, Fahier said. After opening at Southern Market, she took bookkeeping and financial management courses from ASSETS, “and they are still helping us.” Mike Mason, ASSETS chief program officer, is not surprised by Fahier’s success, or her claim of being the most popular stall at the Southern Market. He said Flavors of Morocco has higher price points than other vendors and virtually no competition in its niche. More significantly, he credits Fahier’s marketing abilities. She “spends a lot of time developing her customer base,” he said. “She’s really savvy with her business.”

With the market restaurant up and running, Fahier decided to re-focus her backyard enterprise to a Moroccan experience. Late last summer, she began offering reservation-only meals where people sit on the floor and enjoy five or six courses. Groups typically ranged between eight and 40 people, but she did a ladies’ night for 70. Her business goals go beyond making money. She is just starting her first application to sponsor others to come to the US. ‘I am focusing on what I want, my plans, my future. Leave (other concerns) to God.”

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