A Historical Look at LIFE in ALEPPO

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ONE ON ONE WITH NICOLE SHAMAH

By: Ellen Geller Kamaras



“We take the work out of a home cooked meal and enable our customers to serve it as their own.”  

~~ Nicole Shamah, founder of Nicole’s Kitchen ~~

Do you want to host a Shabbat dinner but are too busy with work and family responsibilities?  Would you like to hold a large summer party in your home but can’t handle cooking for so many guests?  Nicole Shamah is your go-to caterer who will make it happen!

Nicole, a talented young woman in our community, created a niche catering business that allows Jersey shore families to host delicious home cooked meals and present them as their own.  She also prepares traditional and customized menus for semahot and community events including seminars, luncheons, and fundraisers, to name a few.

Nicole’s background

I am honored to introduce you to Nicole and invite you to accompany me on Nicole’s journey from child and teenager to wife, mother, and entrepreneur.

Nicole, daughter of Susan and David Abady, both of Sephardic descent, grew up in Oakhurst, NJ, with two brothers and a sister.  Nicole recalls being studious and taking good notes, “I had neat handwriting and my classmates would always ask for help studying.”

She started working at a young age, around 7th grade, taking care of young children in day camps and later moving on to lifeguard duty. “I always derived satisfaction from my jobs.  I kept busy as I got older, always finding seasonal employment in clothing shops and as a window decorator, even as a newlywed.”

During her high school years Nicole enjoying being involved in YMD, Young Magen David activities. “YMD was a safe venue for community teenagers,” Nicole recalls. After graduating Hillel High School, Nicole studied for a year at Hunter College and switched gears to become a Licensed Esthetician. She enrolled in Christine Valmy, an internationally recognized beauty and esthetics school,and received her certification. A few months later, after working in the beauty field, Nicole married her naseeb, Eddie Shamah, who is two years older than Nicole.  They have six children and live in West Long Branch, NJ. 

Nicole describes herself as friendly, patient, easy-going, carefree, and organized.  I also sensed a calmness and strength, exhibited in a very capable person who takes the curveballs that life throws at her in stride.  She is passionate “definitely about family and then food”and views her children and business as her highest accomplishments. 

Overcoming Adversity

In the first year of Nicole and Eddie’s marriage, they received the shocking news that Eddie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “We had no idea at the time what that would mean for our future.  We always had strong religious values and faith and nothing held us back from having children.”

Eddie did not start to feel the negative effects of MS until about ten years into their marriage, even though he had experienced some imbalance, numbness, and weakness before.  He continued to run his own lawn maintenance business.

Nicole was busy raising their young children and began her career as a caterer and foodie after her third child was born, 13 years ago.  Nicole’s mom, Susan Abady, was in charge of the school lunch program at Hillel Yeshiva and Nicole started working with Susan at Hillel.  Nicole shared that her job at Hillel snowballed into her own catering business.  “I prepared the food for a YMD Seminar, cooked meals for hagim from my own home, and my customer base increased.  I started cooking early for Passover first in my own kitchen, and then began to cook in kosher commercial kitchens.”

Around five years after the MS symptoms kicked in, Eddie’s business became to slip away, and it was difficult for him to function on a daily basis. It was around that time, in 2013, that Nicole pushed hard to make her catering business a reality.  Her mother resigned from her position at Hillel to help Nicole launch her business. Nicole rented a permanent storefront in Allenhurst, NJ (her dad found the perfect location), and Nicole’s Kitchen (NK) was born! 

Nicole’s Brand

Nicole caters to all, but definitely is recognized for her outstanding Syrian traditional food, putting her own gourmet twist on the classic dishes. Not surprisingly, her 17-year-old daughter Nina enjoys cooking Syrian delicacies, taking out the refined ingredients and making her favorite ones “cleaner.”

Nicole customizes dishes to her client’s needs. All cooking is done at her store with a mashgiach(JSOR) on the premises. Nicole caters meat, dairy, and pareve meals. 

Nicole’s retail store includes a line of pareve and dairy takeaway items (Grab N’ Go Lunch) and a freezer case filled with ready to heat and serve dinner fill-ins.

Nicole explained that menus vary by season. Customers prefer lighter foods in the summer and the hagimare geared more towards meat dishes. Meal options include low sugar, gluten-free, and salt-free.

She offers “soup to nut service,” providing everything for an event - food, drinks, desserts, and waiter service.

NK delivers on the Jersey Shore and during the year to Brooklyn, the Five Towns, and Florida.  Florida shipments include Passover.
 

Nicole’s Secret Sauce

We each have a special spark that makes us unique and contributes to our success.

Nicole’s clients tell her that she is very calm and organized and that she transmits her state of calmness to them.  They say, “We couldn’t make it through the summer without you!”  Others admit, “We are only hosting because you are helping us, Nicole.”  Nicole added that summer residents like to entertain a lot and yet also want to relax.  She provides that service.  “We fill a need, the desire to entertain and not spend one’s time in the kitchen. We take the work out of home-cooked meals, and our clients can serve them as their own.  We also offer supplemental dishes.”  This author can relate to that! I admit to cooking my own chicken and fish but supplementing with store-bought salads and side dishes.

Nicole’s daughter Nina admires her mother’s people skills.  Mommy, you know how to talk to people.”  Nicole confessed that she learned how to relate to her clients as she developed her business.  She sincerely cares about her customers and enjoys connecting with them, building relationships, and collaborating with them for meals and special occasions.

Nicole’s secret to success is also her constant and consistent belief, emunah, that whatever happens is for a reason.  Nicole continues to grow personally, spiritually, and professionally.

Nicole’s Kitchen lights her up.  Nicole enjoys taking on new projects. She becomes excited about the new summer season or the holidays, and creating tailored and styled menus for her clients’ events, e.g. brit milot, children’s birthday parties, engagement parties, school events (seminars and after school programs), Shabbat and holiday meals, women’s brunches, senior events, and even small weddings. 

How did Nicole’s business grow?

“Definitely through word of mouth.  People asked me to make certain dishes or I would cook with my friends and they told other people and the business grew.”

Nicole keeps up with the latest cookbooks and recipes and tweaks them to make them her own.

Balance

Her challenges?  Juggling family and work.  “My biggest struggles are related to work-life balance, being home on time for my children after school, leaving the house early to cater a brit milah.  My husband is beyond supportive, always available for the kids and helping them when I am not there.”

Eddie and the children are so proud of Nicole, and the kids often exclaim, “Mommy, everyone knows you, you are a celebrity!”

Lessons Learned

Nicole encourages aspiring caterers to go after what they want and to accept that food is very personal and everybody has an opinion. “If someone gives you advice, ‘you should do it this way,’ listen respectfully, and if it doesn’t work for you, say thank you and do it your way - in the best way possible.”

Hakarat Hatov

Nicole acknowledges that she couldn’t have created the business without Mom and Dad, who are actively involved in NK.  “I didn’t think about role models until my late teens. We are shaped when real life hits us. I learned so much from my parents. Everyone has a role at NK. My mom, who everyone recognizes from her Hillel days helped me start the business when I was ready to go out on my own, and partners with me to supervise everything.  She is supportive and easy-going, and is an expert on the Syrian staples.  My dad joined full time around seven years ago and is very likeable and laid-back. He does all the shopping.”

Nicole is very grateful for the help and support she and her family have received from her husband’s parents, Nina and Abo Shamah.

Nicole also expressed her gratitude to the community, “They are there for each other no matter what - in good and sad times.”

Keep your eyes out for new dishes atNicole’s Kitchen.  Nicole is always adding and changing things up.

To connect with Nicole, call her at the store (732-531-1405) or drop by at 323 Main Street in Allenhurst, or email her at nicoleskitchen1@gmail.com.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).