Interview by Sarah Shumick
After long and successful careers in ballet, Hisham and Olivia Omardien have traded pointe shoes for a seat behind what’s quickly becoming a well-known and much-loved food truck in the Columbus area. Originally from South Africa, Hisham is introducing Columbus to the Cape Malay cuisine and all its delightfully crave-able spices and flavors. When they’re not out serving up South African food, the Omardiens enjoy relaxing at home in Clintonville with their two children, Safiyyah and Zayn.
Where are you from and what brought you to Columbus? Hisham: I am originally from Worcester in the Republic of South Africa. It is in the Western Cape about an hour outside Cape Town. I came to Columbus in 2000 to join BalletMet as a dancer. At the time it was a one year contract. That one year became 7 years, and then I became Ballet Master for the company and held that position for another 11 years.
Olivia: I was born in Bellville, OH about an hour outside of Columbus. I have a long history in Columbus. I started traveling the hour from Bellville to Columbus to study at BalletMet when I was 13. I have seen such amazing changes in the city since then! I love the growth and exciting things happening around the city now, but I also love that I still recognize the city that has always been a great place to call home.
Give us a snapshot of your career paths. Hisham: I danced with CAPAB (now known as Cape Town City Ballet) from 1990-1999. I danced with State Theatre Ballet Company in Pretoria (no longer in existence) for one year 1999-2000. After that I came to the States to join BalletMet and was a part of BalletMet from 2000-2018. As my time with BalletMet came to a close, Olivia and I bought a food truck and started our new path as owners of Hisham’s- a food truck based in Columbus and specializing in South African Cape Malay cuisine.
Olivia: After training at the BalletMet Dance Academy, I went on to dance with the Richmond Ballet in Virginia, the Nashville Ballet in Tennessee, and Festival Ballet of Rhode Island in Providence. I returned to Columbus in 1998 to join BalletMet as a company member. I danced there until my retirement from the stage in 2015. After that I continued to teach ballet, Pilates, and some work as a stager for James Kudelka. I am now co-owner of Hisham’s Food.
What inspired you to open Hisham’s Food? Hisham: I am incredibly close to my family in South Africa. Throughout my years here I found myself really missing them and the food and smells of home. Cooking at home was always a family affair and I helped to abate my homesickness by cooking my native cuisine. Over the years, perfected my recipes over the phone with the help of my mom and sisters. We loved having friends over to share the food from my home. We started the food truck to be able to share it with even more people!
Tell us about Hisham’s Food, specifically “Cape Malay.” What should we know & where can we get it? Cape Malay refers to a group of people and a type of cuisine centered around Cape Town. The name comes from an influx of people from India, Java, Indonesia, etc. mostly brought to the area as slaves. The food of these peoples combined with the tastes of the Dutch and British to create the dishes now known as “Cape Malay.” We invite you to seek us out to try the unique fusion of tastes created by the melting pot that is Cape Town. You can see our schedule for the truck’s location at Hisham’s Food StreetFoodFinder.
What gets you up in the morning? Haha- usually our kids! Safiyyah- age 11 and Zayn- age 4
And what gets you through the workweek? Knowing that people are enjoying our food and that by serving up some deliciousness we are also providing for our family and growing our business.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? Olivia: We have relied heavily on my family. My father has run many successful businesses through the years and we often call on him and my mom for help. My family owns Elzy Milling and Trade in Bellville, OH and, although the product is different, many of the problems of owning a small business are the same. I call on my brother, Donnie, and his wife, Jamie, for lots of advice. And it was actually a spark of an idea from my sister, Ashlie and her husband, Aaron, that urged us to give this all a try.
Hisham: The kitchen guidance from Chef Brooke Kinsey of Bleu & Fig has been invaluable! She has helped me more times than I can count and I am so thankful for her being so open and giving with her vast knowledge.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges and how you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? Our lives have changed immensely since starting Hisham’s Food. The biggest challenge is schedule- food truck scheduling of events and gigs. Throw in Safiyyah’s schedule that juggles school, a competitive swim team, and friend time. Mix in Zayn and some day care needs and it is a very complicated recipe! We try to take it one day at a time- learning as we go and trying to find a balance for everything in there somewhere.
Where do you go to unwind? To our home in Clintonville!
What might someone be surprised to know about you? Olivia: that I grew up on a farm
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? Hisham: a teacher. My mom was a teacher. Olivia: a ballerina
What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now? Olivia: I love historical fiction. I am currently reading “An Echo in the Bone” from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
What would your autobiography be called? Hisham: From Worcester, with Love
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus: The Columbus Zoo, COSI, the vibrant arts scene, and of course check out all the amazing food trucks around the city!
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about? We use recyclable, compostable, biodegradable serving containers on our food truck. It is something that matters a lot to us and we hope to someday become more involved in initiatives to promote green choices.
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? The diverse food scene!
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? We think that the “pulse” of any city is the people that make up that city. We have so much fun meeting the people that come to our truck to eat. We love getting to hear their stories and to share our story with them. Honestly, chatting with our customers is one of the best things about what we do! We see an amazingly diverse, wonderful array of people who live in Columbus. These are the people that help shape our city into the great place it is- if the future of Columbus rests in the hands of the incredible people we meet as we travel then Columbus has a very exciting future!