The two managers of Julia Dumna, Erica Worsley and Kenan Hussien
Photo: Patricia Pitsch/Maison Moderne
Finding work with a fair employer is a major challenge for displaced people who move to Luxembourg. One expat mum hopes to have found an answer.
Erica Worsley is well-known in the refugee community. Having volunteered at the foyer St Antoine, coordinated numerous collections and comanaged the Refugees Facebook query page, the mother-of-two is no stranger to the challenges refugees face.
Her latest initiative takes her further into their world than any project has yet. On 10 August, she opened Syrian restaurant Julia Dumna, a Strassen-based restaurant staffed by people rebuilding their lives from scratch in Luxembourg.
“It’s difficult to know how to help people without the language. A lot will have English but, for any kind of work you want to do that’s using your skills, it’s very hard without the languages,” she told Delano in an interview on 9 August, adding that even for those who have mastered the Luxembourg languages, it can be challenging. “We have one Syrian man from Aleppo working as a waiter. He’s a lawyer! He’s looking for work and speaks French and Luxembourgish. It’s so difficult.”
Photo: Patricia Pitsch/Maison Moderne. Julia Dumna is a new Syrian restaurant at 321 route d'Arlon
From private parties to restaurant
The project grew from early fundraising bake sales for which women in the foyers cooked. 18 months ago the women began cooking for private functions, leading Worsley to look into opening a restaurant. She was helped by a close-knit team, which she says has come to feel like family.
The staff of Iraqis and Syrians includes co-manager Kenan Hussien, an entrepreneur from Homs in Syria. “It’s my first job in Luxembourg. I feel excited to work with people I like. Most of these people I’ve known since I came to Luxembourg,” he said.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to another person from Hussien’s home town. Julia Dumna was a powerful political figure in Roman times who was the second wife of Septimus Severus, Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. A painting of Dumna hangs on the wall inside the restaurant, as a reminder how strong women can be, not that it is needed. The women working at the restaurant show just as much character. In the kitchen is Syrian chef Sabah, from Aleppo, who cooks for her colleagues with as much passion as she does for paying customers.
Her recipes, meanwhile, are a closely-guarded secret, having been passed down through the generations. She has made a few changes to them, however, as Hussien points out that unlike Arabic tastes, western diners prefer their food a little less salty and oily. But that aside, the cuisine is as authentic as one would find in Iraq or Syria with dishes such as hot and cold mezze and Shish Tawook mixed grill.
Photo: Patricia Pitsch/Maison Moderne. Syrian chef Sabah uses her grandmother's recipes and gives them a little twist for the restaurant
A reason to get up every day
Julia Dumna is not the first Arabic cuisine restaurant staffed by displaced people with an entrepreneurial spirit in Luxembourg. Popup eateries like Syriously and Chiche are among the most well-known.
As Worsley points out, the people she has met are “so happy to share their food with people in Luxembourg.” But, the financial and administrative burdens of such an undertaking are too much for most, many of which will have lost their savings to people traffickers or been forced to abandon anything they owned at home.
“Our concept is to bring more than just the food, not only the Arabic dining experience, but to bring an opportunity for a future again, for the people we’re employing, and a reason to get up every day and have self-respect and self-worth again,” Worsely said.
Julia Dumna, at 321 route d’Arlon, is open for lunch and dinner, from Tuesdays to Sundays.