17 April 2023

Habibi Chicken to spread its wings from Wagga with love

| Chris Roe
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Mariam Rehman

Mariam Rehman is planning a franchised business anchored in Wagga. Photo: Chris Roe.

Mariam Rehman is proudly Wagga born and raised and while she has big plans for the Habibi Chicken brand, she is keeping it anchored in the Riverina.

The Fitzmaurice Street restaurant launched less than a year ago and has quickly become a popular option for locals in the expanding dining precinct.

“I thought it was about time that we had something a little bit more culturally diverse but also still spoke to the contemporary market that is here, so we created Habibi Chicken just so that we could celebrate Middle Eastern culture and flavours and the local culture too,” Mariam explains, sitting comfortably at one of the outdoor tables on the picturesque Wagga street.

“Habibi, when translated to English, means ‘my love’, so in everything that we do, we try and put that love factor in.”

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Mariam says that the plan was always to build a brand that they could expand on and, despite challenging economic times, they have been successful in Wagga and are beginning to look further afield.

Habibi Chicken is in the process of setting up its first distribution centre in Wagga and will look to employ another 10 to 15 locals as things take shape.

“Our plan was always to franchise, and that would mean going out to the regions or a city like Canberra and then maybe going into the bigger cities slowly,” she says.

“We could have looked at putting in a distribution centre in Sydney, which would be cheaper, but we really want to see the region grow and we really want to hold on to that Wagga connection.”

Chicken dish

Habibi will focus on streamlining its brand at a new Wagga distribution centre. Photo: Supplied.

The new distribution centre will focus on logistics and processes to lay the foundation from which to expand.

“Once we do have more stores, everything’s gonna go out from here in Wagga and that will always remain the case,” she says with conviction.

“And we can only do that if we get that support from the community as well because it’s not just us as a business, but collectively as the Wagga community, we can make it happen.”

Mariam Rehman

Mariam Rehman says Habibi Chicken aims to bring Middle Eastern flavours with a Wagga twist. Photo: Chris Roe.

A second-generation Australian with Pakistani parents, Mariam says she has seen the city change over the past two decades and embrace its increasingly diverse community.

“The kind of multiculturalism that exists in Wagga is really about community and I think that’s what makes it so unique,” she says.

“People think because Habibi is Middle Eastern, I must be Middle Eastern, but growing up here, even though I’m Pakistani, my best friends are Egyptian and Iraqi so I was open to so many different cultures, which I so love.”

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The Habibi Chicken team is also behind Wagga’s first-ever Multicultural Eid Festival, at the Music Bowl on 6 May.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, and Mariam says the event will showcase the diverse cultures of Wagga’s Muslim community and invite the wider community to join the celebration.

“It’s a celebration of food, but also how different cultures like to celebrate the festival, so it’s a chance to bring people together on a common ground,” she says.

cooked chicken

Habibi Chicken is made “with love” and tastes delicious. Photo: Supplied.

Continuing the multicultural dining theme, Habibi’s Knafeh nights have been a hit and the space upstairs will soon transform into a new shop named Sweeties.

“You’re going to have that balcony view, but there’s also inside seating with a nice intimate fireplace there. It’s all Middle Eastern-inspired sweets, mocktails, healthy drinks and acai bowls,” Mariam says, adding that food is a great starting point to celebrate both our differences and commonalities.

“I was born in Australia but I’m still also Pakistani and I love that. But as an Australian, I also know that I couldn’t live in any other country because it’s such a big part of me,” she says.

“I think every culture within that should be celebrated for what it is, without the idea that you have to be like this person or that person to get along.

“There’ll be much more respect and understanding if we accept and celebrate our different cultures.”

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