By Meridith Dyer
At first, Tawakal Market may seem like an ordinary building, but you need to look beyond the surface. It is not just an average market; the Jumale family has crafted a unique space that serves as a home for many local businesses, not just their own.
In 1999 Suad Jumale opened Tawakal Market on her own. Moving to Seattle from the East Coast, she worked two full-time jobs tirelessly, saving up to start a business of her own. As a Somali refugee and the first family member to come to the US, Suad played a pivotal role in helping her entire family resettle in the Seattle area. As the business grew, different family members came on board to help.
Madhi Jamale and Founder Suad Jamale standing in front of Their Zain Cafe logo.
On any given day, you can find a few members of the Jumale family working at the store. The tight-knit Somali culture, emphasizing family bonds and mutual assistance, has played an important role in the business’ growth. One of the siblings, Khalid, oversees a cell phone repair company in the same building. Amina, another sister, is adored by customers and known for her multilingual abilities and compassionate nature. “Many customers call this ‘Amina’s store’… asking ‘Where’s Amina?'” her younger brother Mehdi shares with a smile.
Mehdi is the most recent family member to join the Tawakal ranks. As a young child, when Tawakal first opened, he grew up helping out at the store before venturing into construction and engineering. After taking a break from his professional career to provide care for his mother, he recognized a logistical gap within the business and stepped forward to address it.
A few years ago, Tawakal faced the challenge of relocating, forcing them to close up shop for a year and a half while they searched for a suitably- sized property. Driven by a vision to expand and create space for other local businesses, Tawakal eventually found its present location, conveniently situated just across the street from its previous building. Throughout this process, Mehdi developed a relationship with the local city officials and now actively volunteers with “Community and Economic Development.” His desire is to help bridge the gap between the city and small businesses in the community.
The interior of Tawakal Market.
“We were lucky to move so close,” Mehdi says, sitting in the establishment’s most recent addition, Zain Restaurant and Bakery Cafe. In October 2022, after a year of construction, the eatery opened and is serving an appetizing menu influenced by a fusion of East African, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisine.
Breakfast is served until 11 AM, featuring a selection of freshly baked pastries skillfully prepared by two professional bakers. The case display case boasts an enticing array of croissants, doughnuts, cookies, cupcakes, and baklava. Apart from the standard espresso beverages, they also offer a tasty Somali tea that is perfectly spiced, sweetened, and topped off with steamed milk. The main menu is available until closing time at 9 PM and showcases an array of enticing dishes. Among the highlights are the traditional Somali stew suqaar, succulent goat meat, Kenyan ugali, and flavorful Greek gyros. Suad and her team are also ready to provide catering options upon request, offering a delicious assortment of dishes.
Mehdi gives a tour of the entire premises, encompassing various small stores catering to jewelry, cell phone repair, money transfers, and clothing. Employees and customers are seen chatting like old friends, which they very well might be. Amina warmly greets people from her position as the front cashier while a family is ordering an early dinner at Zain.
Tawakal, Zain, and their network of businesses cater to a diverse range of internationally varied customers, including Somali, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Indian, and more. However, they aim to expand their customer base even further to include all ethnic groups from the surrounding areas. Located conveniently near the airport, they eagerly anticipate the arrival of new customers willing to try something different. Mehdi expresses his commitment to fostering strong relationships with the various ethnicities in the Tukwila area, both from his family’s Somali culture and other cultures, even to those who are more accustomed to Western influences. Whenever new customers visit the establishment to dine, he warmly welcomes them and answers any questions they may have regarding the menu or unfamiliar items.
If you’re looking to try new food or grab a coffee, make sure to visit Zain. And if you need a particular spice or ingredient for an ethnic dish you’re preparing, Tawakal is the place to go. Get to know this local gathering place that serves its community so well. Despite facing challenges in the past, it has emerged stronger than ever, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.