In 2018, when Maythem Saad decided to create Berhyah, his mission was multifaceted. He wanted to remind people of Iraq’s place in the global date-trade, while bolstering the returned manufacturing of the more than 600 types of dates grown in the country. He also sought to create an in-store atmosphere that matched the experiences he’d had in fine-dining cultures abroad.
Maythem said that his goal was to shift the way Iraqis saw dates. He recognized that they were a staple so ingrained in Iraqi food traditions that their cultural value was sometimes lost on locals.
“We saw a need for the market to produce the dates in a different way,” he said. ”Before, if someone wanted to get dates as a souvenir, we didn’t have anything special.” So for months, Mayhem worked to design packaging that would showcase the rich history of dates in Iraq. He developed and sold his products on a small scale at first, but over time, the business grew and more jobs opened up.
Before Berhyah, Mustafa Liwaraa, 37, worked a dangerous, low-paid job for a de-mining company in Basra. He described his role there as being worlds apart from his work at Berhyah, where he’s been since before the cafe opened. Mustafa has worked as a delivery man, then as an accountant and a manager. But Mustafa’s true passion for the job was realized when he started making coffee.
“It’s incredible,” he said of his job as a barista. “It makes me feel great. I’ve made a lot of friends among the customers who come here every day.” Mustafa also leaned into the artistry of coffee-making— developing new recipes for the cafe, like lattes and cappuccinos uniquely flavored using Berhyah’s dates and nuts.
In 2021, Berhyah was approved to receive a $30,000 grant from the Enterprise Development Fund. They've only received their first installment so far, but the money has already enabled them to buy more dough mixers, a new oven, and other machines for their kitchen. Subsequently, the cafe increased production by 30-40%, and in the coming months the additional funds Berhyah will receive will make it possible to create three new positions.
After that, the sky's the limit. In 2022, Maythem will open Berhyah’s second cafe in Erbil. And someday, he plans to take the artistry and history of Iraqi dates to consumers abroad with shops in Tokyo, Dubai, and New York.