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The new Sydney pop-up restaurant providing jobs for asylum seekers.

“These women get trained up with the skills, confidence and experience to run their own projects, they get out and meet each other, reducing the sense of social isolation, and we get to enjoy and celebrate their food and cultures.”

There are so many great things about the Sydney-based pop-up restaurant project Mazi Mas, it’s difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, it’s a proudly feminist undertaking, which means that helping women and celebrating their work lies at the core of the project.

Employing new migrant and refugee women, Mazi-Mas runs dinner events around the city, in cafes that would normally stay closed after dark.

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The Mazi Mas project is “proudly feminist”. Image: Supplied.

Mazi Mas is a not-for-profit social enterprise, which started in London in 2012 to provide employment opportunities for migrant and refugee women as well as asylum seekers with work rights.

Its founder, Nikandre Kopcke, named it in honour of her Greek grandmother (Mazi Mas means “with us” in Greek).

It has now reached Australia via Maggie Lloyd, who met Kopcke whilst the pair were studying their Masters of Gender at the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics.

Lloyd says that when she first heard about Kopcke’s idea she thought it sounded amazing — and universal.

“In both the developed and developing world women to lion’s share of care work; cooking and cleaning and looking after children,” Lloyd told Mamamia.

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“This was a way of celebrating that work, and rewarding it with fair wages.”

Seeing the high levels of unemployment and underemployment affecting migrants and refugees who settle in the Australian community, Lloyd paired with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Sydney, who already run a successful work access program.

Central to Lloyd’s mission is removing barriers to the workforce by equipping her staff with local food handling qualifications as well as teaching them basic business skills for their own future ventures.

“It’s main aims are around celebrating the skills they already had, but there’s also the practical element of finding ongoing work in a new county and having formal qualifications and local qualifications,” she said.

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The head chef is also in charge of the menu. Image: Supplied.

The events run for two or three days at a time, with around eight or nine women working each night.

One or two of the women are designated the role of head chef — and it’s their jobs to plan the menu, but final spread is definitely a team effort.

“When people come up to them afterwards and ask for their recipes I think they really enjoy it,” Looyd said.

“When I was at university worked in a bar and restaurant found the kitchen can be really stressful and it’s just not like that.”

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The Mazi Mas kitchen is calmer than most. Image via Facebook.
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The process of collaboration that surrounds each event — including recipe sharing and taste testing evenings — helps to connect the women, many of whom feel isolated and can only find accommodation far out of the CBD.

According to Lloyd, more than 50% of those who have taken part so far have managed to secure work in the hospitality industry, but, she added, some enjoyed the Mazi Mas event so much they had offered to take time off from their jobs to do another event.

“I can see a marked change in confidence – they are rightly proud what they’ve done,” she said.

“It’s an amazing thing to be putting on a pop up restaurant in an entirely new city with a staff of people who are new to the job as well.”

Mazi Mas has already garnering praise, including from the Lord Mayor Clover Moore who posted about the restaurant on her Facebook page calling the project a “wonderful” thing for Sydney.

“These women get trained up with the skills, confidence and experience to run their own projects, they get out and meet each other, reducing the sense of social isolation, and we get to enjoy and celebrate their food and cultures,” she wrote.

“I’m really proud the City supports ventures like Mazi Mas through our grants and sponsorship program.”

She also suggested that others with great project ideas could check out the available grants on the City of Sydney website.

Get all the updates from Mazi Mas on their Facebook page. Or check out their website here.

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