Mosaic Stories

    Alaa Alderie

    Alaa Alderie and his family came to St. Louis out of necessity, and in the process they have built a successful family business. Originally from Damascus, Syria, Alaa’s brother, Awss, came to St. Louis in 2010, and Alaa and their parents followed in 2012. The family chose St. Louis because Awss had a friend here and the family wanted to stay together. Alaa described the move and said, “it was not an option,” because the war had made it unsafe for them to stay in Syria. While the family moved due to adverse circumstances, they have found St. Louis to be extremely welcoming and have created a thriving business.

    Alaa has his background in private banking, having lived and worked in Syria, Dubai, and Lebanon. When he came to the United States, however, he took over his brother’s restaurant in the Grove, and his brother opened a boutique on the loop. Alaa realized that the restaurant business was not for him, so the family sold everything and decided to all work together on a new business, Cham, which would bake and distribute pita bread.

    He described the process, “The restaurant business was not my type. It was a little tricky for me because there was no way to grow more than whatever capacity the restaurant was. I like production and business because there is a lot of promise in it- you can grow, you can expand. We started Cham, and we do wholesale. We do the production and have vans to do the delivery to restaurants and grocery stores in St. Louis.” 

    Alaa realized that he would need a growing business to support his whole family, and this drove him to start Cham. The family uses the recipe that their grandfather and father used when working as bakers in Syria. Alaa enjoyed growing the business from scratch and said, “I did some modifications that go with the American market, and we chose everything very carefully, from the name to the logo. We wanted our print on it. We chose Cham as the name because it means Damascus. Damascus is very famous for jasmine so we put that on our logo, and the heart stands for health.”

    The Syrian community is fairly small in St. Louis, but, even so, Alaa was able to find abundant help and support with both the transition to the United States and with starting Cham. Alaa and his family utilized the resources at the International Institute of St. Louis, as well as the City of St. Louis. Alaa found the business sector to be extremely helpful and welcoming.

    “For me, there were new rules, new requirements, new everything, but the City of St. Louis showed me step by step what I needed to do. I could also go to the International Institute and ask them about anything and find help. It is great because you at least have a starting point. When our business took off, I wanted vans so I could go to some other cities. The International Institute was there for me. They gave me a loan, offered me marketing and legal advice, and were like my family. When you go there, you don’t feel like they are doing a job. They really want to help you, and they do everything with a big smile. The City of St. Louis and the International Institute made it easy for me.”

    Alaa wants to encourage other people to start their own businesses and to not be afraid to take the leap. He explained, “It’s not hard. It’s not crazy. Starting a business is a very amazing experience. You really design your own brand and put your feeling and touch into everything. I think St. Louis really wants more small businesses at this point, and I encourage people to try.” 

    The Alderie family has had very positive experiences in St. Louis. Alaa enjoys the pace of life and the fact that he can find anything he needs or wants in St. Louis. He also recognized the importance of not believing everything projected by the media and getting to know people on a personal level. Alaa came to the United States with the perception that Americans were unfriendly and disliked outsiders. Once he got to know people, however, he realized that people were extremely friendly and wanted to get to know him. He explained, “Everyone was really nice and wanted to interact with me. They wanted to listen to me, and that’s what makes you feel comfortable and feel like you are accepted.”

    The few times that Alaa has been treated negatively due to his background, he has chosen to believe that that person is just having a bad day. He hopes that people will not believe everything the media projects about the Middle East and the Muslim faith, and that they will get to know individuals instead.

    “In any culture and any religion you are going to find good people and bad people. It’s life, that’s just how it is. It’s sad to see people just having one idea for a big group, and it’s hard not being able to do anything about it. I try to be focused on giving the right representation of who I am.”

    While the Alderie family misses their culture and society back in Syria, they are building an amazing life in St. Louis. Cham pita bread is sold at Dierbergs, Schnucks, Straub’s, United Provisions, Whole Foods, and several other markets. When asked about the future, Alaa immediately responded, “I want to go nationwide!” The company currently focuses on pita bread but hopes to start selling pastries and Middle Eastern sweets. Alaa was awarded the Mosaic Immigrant Food Award at the 2016 Mosaic Annual Community Event and was also interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio, which can be heard here.