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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Feast World Kitchen’s founder builds connections through food, hugs and humility

Maisa Abudayha has been busy connecting cultures and fueling spirits through her passion for cooking and providing access to foods that members of the Spokane community might never have the chance to experience if it weren’t for Feast World Kitchen.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Maisa Abudayha has turned her love of food into a restaurant that offers help to nearly 100 immigrant and refugee chefs interested in sharing their culture.

Her efforts to support others who, like her, came to the United States in search of a better life have earned her the 2023 YWCA Women of Achievement award for arts and culture. She and the other award winners will be honored at a special luncheon at 11 a.m. March 9 at the Davenport Grand Hotel.

She grew up in Jordan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology and married. She worked as a programmer for Weight Watchers and her husband also had a good job, but they still struggled.

Adudayha loved to sing and dance as a child, but her family could not afford to let her pursue either. She and her husband wanted their two children to have more opportunities than they did.

“We came all together looking for a good future for us and for them,” she said.

There was also the matter of her husband attending a protest against government corruption, which got him summoned to a military court. In Jordan, criticizing the royal family or the government is a crime that can be punishable by death, Abudayha said.

“He never went, because if he goes, I will never hear from him again,” she said.

The family arrived in Spokane in 2015, following in the steps of Abudayha’s sister, who arrived here six years before and raved about the many lakes and rivers. “It’s just like heaven,” she said.

Their first six months here were spent waiting for paperwork. They couldn’t work, had no money and had no car. The family had an apartment, but little furniture. They bought blankets from Goodwill and slept on the floor for the first four months. “It was hard,” she said.

Then the paperwork arrived, and Abudayha went looking for work. “I’m a strong woman and I know I can achieve something,” she said.

She held several jobs, including as an Arabic specialist with Spokane Public Schools helping English as a Second Language students with their math and science until she was laid off in 2018.

When she was contemplating what to do next, her thoughts turned to food. She loved to cook and had often made treats such as baklava for neighbors and others she met. “That’s how I made friends when I first got here,” she said.

Gradually, people had begun asking her to cook for their parties and gatherings, so Abudayha decided to open a catering business. She met Ross Carper through First Presbyterian Church, which offers several programs for immigrants. She borrowed Carper’s food truck to sell food in a parking lot across the street from the church. Things grew from there.

“We came up with a community kitchen that we can do catering from,” she said. “The church loved the idea and bought this building and rented it to us for cheap.”

Feast World Kitchen set up shop in the building on Third Avenue across the street from the church. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, they decided to shift to offering takeout as a way to stay in business. “It was a risky decision,” she said.

But the risk paid off. Now, Feast World Kitchen serves food cooked by a rotating schedule of chefs representing countries across the globe. Some do it as a way to earn money, get experience or simply to share their culture, Abudayha said. More than 70% of the chefs are women.

As chef program director at Feast World Kitchen, Abudayha doesn’t just run the kitchen. She also offers whatever help she can, whether that’s translating or helping someone get a business license.

Noreen Hiskey owns Inland Curry and cooks at Feast World Kitchen regularly. She said Abudayha loves to talk to new chefs and learn their stories. “She definitely has a soft spot for helping women,” she said.

Hiskey said she admires how much Abudayha devotes herself to both her work and her family, which now includes four children. “She’s always hustling, she’s always helping,” Hiskey said. “Every time she sees a need, she jumps in to help.”

Abudayha said she was excited to hear she had won a Women of Achievement award. “I was so happy,” she said. “It’s nice that people are blessed by what I am doing.”

But she also didn’t want the news to make her too proud or arrogant, so she immediately went and cleaned the bathroom to remind herself to be humble.

“Cleaning the bathroom is the worst thing,” she said.

Abudayha said her work might not give her the wealth she initially dreamed of when coming to the United States, but it feeds her soul. “I love Feast so much,” she said. “I love what I do. At the end of the day, a chef hugs you and thanks you for helping them.”