Nadia Abu Al-Samn’s café-restaurant–bazaar, Zamanak Ya Salt is the first woman-owned food establishment in Salt. Nestled in a quiet corner of downtown Salt, the house embodies the eco-friendly elements typified by historical architecture in the region. Of all the cities in Jordan, Salt is most renowned for its historic architecture. When deciding on a location for Zamanak Ya Salt, owner Nadia Abu Al-Samn searched carefully, before settling on a 120 year-old sandstone house. Abu Al-Samn’s choice of this house in particular was also a deliberate progressive statement; it was once co-habited by two Muslim and two Christian families.
In 2010, Nadia applied to the USAID Jordan Tourism Development Project for a grant to support 50% of the physical upgrade of the heritage building, including a one room coffee shop and outdoor area in addition to furniture and kitchen equipment. An ambitious entrepreneur, Nadia then invested further and expanded her establishment by adding on another two rooms and became the first coffee shop to accommodate females rather than only males.
“Originally it hadn’t occurred to me to run a café, but USAID tourism project helped me to realize that offering this service would be a lot more profitable in both the short and long term. In addition to the physical upgrades, they offered several training workshops that have been very useful to me in opening my café, on how to handle food, hygiene and good customer service. I have a long term vision so even though it has been a lot of work to carry out all these improvements, I believe it is all worth it in the end ” said Nadia Abu Al Samn.
“We have a unique setting; the old building, antiques and traditional dress really draw in a steady stream of locals and tourists, so the café makes a lot of sense as customers stay longer and enjoy the atmosphere and services I offer and they go home and tell their friends about us,” she added.
Zamanak Ya Salt serves traditional Jordanian cuisine as well as specialties from Salt. On the menu you can find savory dishes such as mansaf, stuffed zucchini and grape leaves and ouzi, as well as an authentic Jordanian breakfast made of a delicious local variety of zaatar (thyme) with olive oil.
Nadia now coordinates with tour operators to bring in tourists and provide them with these traditional meals which are made by local women. Not content just to feed them, Nadia put together a small show that presents the traditional dress of Salt accompanied by traditional songs, offering entertainment as well as knowledge about Salt’s cultural heritage.
"My purpose in opening Zamanak was two-fold. I wanted to create a women-friendly café, but I also wanted to share my knowledge of our heritage and antiques with visitors. That’s why Zamanak also houses a permanent collection of antiques as well as heritage items for sale."
Nadia is also an antique expert, and carefully renovated the house not only to serve as a café and restaurant, but also to showcase her impressive collection and share her knowledge. The permanent antique collection on display includes such household items as brass coffee pots, perfume pitchers, samovars and traditional ablution pitchers. Zamanak sells many of the traditional handicrafts on display, such as silver jewelry and precious stones as well as foodstuffs such as homemade sumac and khabeesa, a fruit roll made of grape juice.
Zamanak Ya Salt also has a special room dedicated to traditional clothing and accessories. The highlight of this room is Abu Al-Samn’s collection of khalagas or traditional Salti dresses. The room also showcases traditional bridal chests inlaid with mother of pearl as well as an assortment of jewelry and precious stones. Abu Al-Samn’s collection of khalagas is renowned in Salt and the young women have taken a special interest in them lately thanks to Zamanak Ya Salt. As proof of the impact of Abu Al Samn’s hard work, one young woman even rented a khalaga from the collection to use as a wedding dress.
“Things have really changed in the past couple of years. The first year I opened Zamanak Ya Salt, the income didn’t even cover my overhead costs. But since I got support from USAID, now the income covers the costs and there is some left over to invest in more improvements. It is really encouraging to see my business grow,” said Nadia.