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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Kamal trades his apron for a campaign poster

Photo%3A+Paul+Hill
Photo: Paul Hill
Photo: Paul Hill

Kamal Hammouda, chef at Relish, will be stepping down from his position to run for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Since 2012, Hammouda has been serving fresh, locally sourced cuisine at Relish, which he co-owns with his wife, Laura Fendt. Situated on the corner of Park Street and Fourth Avenue, the cheery yellow home is as inviting as the aromas that waft from its kitchen.

Though many now know the couple as the beloved owners of Relish, Hammouda and Fendt have been making contributions to the Grinnell community since long before they opened their current restaurant. After settling down with their family after living in Des Moines and other parts of the world, Hammouda was determined to bring a taste of his own culture to the people of Grinnell.

“I opened my first place [in Grinnell] in 1992 called The Last Egyptian just down a block [from Relish], and I lost the lease. Some of the customers didn’t want to see me go, so they asked me to put together a proposal. Our customers financed us to restart twice. That’s what kept us here, the community that we built. They helped us long before GoFundMe ever existed,” said Hammouda.

It was this connection with people and the compassion shared between them and their customers that kept Hammouda and Fendt living in Grinnell for over 25 years. Since he opened The Last Egyptian, Hammouda has been a proponent of using local foods to create dishes. Thus, he has built relationships with local farmers who have sourced many of his ingredients.

After 28 years of dedicated service to the Grinnell community, however, the couple is ready to take a well-deserved break from the restaurant business.

“I’m old. Restaurant work demands standing on your feet [for] many hours, and I need to step back and take it a little easy,” said Hammouda.

The couple is preparing to retire this coming summer and is in search of someone new who could take over the restaurant. But Hammouda is looking to shift his career goals to continue serving others on a much broader scale.

He is running as an independent for District 76’s seat in the Iowa House of Representatives in 2020. District 76 is currently represented by Republican David E. Maxwell, who has held the office since 2012.

As he prepares for the upcoming election, help floods in from college students, current and past Relish faculty members, and other Grinnell citizens that want to assist Hammouda in his political endeavor.

“Some of the community members are disappointed that I am stopping [my work at the restaurant], but by and large, they are supporting,” said Hammouda.

He feels that his years of experience cooking at and running his own restaurant will make him prepared for a position in the Iowa State House.

“It’s all about service. What’s a restaurant but providing a service? And what is being a representative but being a service to the people?”

Hammouda focuses on a number of important issues in his campaign, including an improved quality of water, sustainable farming practices, quality of public education and affordable health care. Another important reason that he decided to run is to represent the Muslim and immigrant populations of the United States whose opinions often go unheard.

“I got tired of [others] attacking immigrants and Muslims. [Politicians] do not speak up for us, and nobody is going to speak up for us. Really, nobody does,” said Hammouda.

His frustration was piqued when Minnesota U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, was threatened and plagued with racist and Islamophobic remarks.

“Both [the Republican and Democratic] parties just attacked her, and I found it totally unacceptable. People are afraid to speak favorably about Muslims, and the Republican and the Democratic Party are typically both talking about the rights of immigrants,” said Hammouda. “What both sides are forgetting is white people are the invaders of this land. A server of the land, not the native. So maybe all of us should leave and leave it back to the Native Americans, if they are so adamant about anti-immigration [policies].”

As he strives to stay out of the feuds between parties, Hammouda advocates that voters select political candidates based on the candidate’s personal beliefs rather than a party affiliation.

“I just want people to know that they can participate in the political process, and that they should participate in the political process, and they should not rely on others to do it for them,” said Hammouda.

For more information on Hammouda’s campaign for the State House, visit his website, kamalforiowa2020.com.

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