Our Town: Owners of ‘Relish’ find ways to support Grinnell community

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:54 PM CDT
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GRINNELL, Iowa (KCRG) - In 1992, when Kamal Hammouda married his wife Laura Fendt, he made it very clear he wanted to open a restaurant.

“She said, ‘I’ve nothing to do with it as long as that’s clear we are fine. Am I correct?‘” said Hammouda.

“Yea, that’s pretty much it,” Fendt said laughingly.

So he opened the Phoenix in a storefront in downtown Grinnell. In 1994, he moved to a new building south of Central Park. Then in 2012, after some remodeling and rebranding, Kamal opened Relish, with his wife as the owner.

“In a nutshell, that’s the story of Kamal and Laura in the restaurant business,” Hammouda said. “And she decided, she will take her chances working with me... and we haven’t killed each other yet.”

A big part of their success is respect for each other.

“She’s Catholic, I’m Muslim,” he said. “We both have a great deal of respect for each other’s beliefs."

“It kinda flows to other things,” Fendt said.

They say their customers and the surrounding community are a big part of what has helped them thrive.

“They didn’t balk when they realized that we were going to rebrand here. They trusted us,” Hammouda said.

Hammouda and Fendt said that, while they were attracted to Grinnell’s architecture, it was the kindness of the people who live here that made this place home. It’s that same graciousness that’s help their business during COVID-19.

“The ones who used to come once a week are now ordering takeout once a week,” Fendt said. “The ones who came once a month are now ordering take out, probably more than when they would come in.”

But the couple has found ways to mirror that graciousness and give back to the community, as well. They do their best to support their community through their business.

“I don’t pander to the popular trend, Hammouda said. “I focus on what I believe to be healthy, food cuisine. I do my best to buy as much as I can locally. Most of the beef that we use comes from local farmers. All of the lamb we use comes from local farmers.”

But one example, in particular, happened when an anonymous fan began sending checks to the restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because we were doing fine, we used some of this money to contribute to activities in the community,” Hammouda said. “Laura thought and did it with the school district and donated gift certificates for needy families.”

It goes to show the people they serve are more than community and customers--they’re family.

“When people ask me why I’m still here and I give the examples of what kinda support I have gotten. I look at them and said ‘do you think I can get that in Chicago... or Madison... or Des Moines?’ I don’t think so,” Hammouda said.

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