Until relatively recently Lisa and Jacob's family lived in the village of Urmia in modern Day Iran. When the Ottoman Empire fell there was a massive genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks. Most of the villages that had been Assyrian for thousands of years had to pack up and flee. Her grandparents, who were just children then, were lucky enough to escape to Baghdad in 1915. Then, in 1964, their father moved from Baghdad to America. As an homage to her family's rich ancestry, Lisa named her food truck for the ancient capital city of Nineveh.
After moving from Ohio to study ceramics and print making at Evergreen, Lisa noticed there wasn't a Middle Eastern restaurant in Olympia. She dreamed of opening a restaurant to make authentic Middle Eastern foods, like shawarma, a sliced meat that is marinated in spices and then cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It's similar to a gyro or doner kabob, except for one big difference: the meat. Most American gyro meat comes from one company near Chicago. "It's a compressed cone of meat made from ends and whatnots." Lisa explains, "It's like the baloney of Middle Eastern food." Lisa wanted to offer a better option.
Their food truck serves up Iraqi street food made from fresh ingredients that are locally sourced when possible. The falafel, for example, starts with organic chickpeas grown right here in Washington. After soaking the beans, they are ground with spices and fresh onions and parsley from Calliope Farm in Olympia. Then the falafel is fried and topped with veggies they pickle themselves. Lisa talks about her dream of opening a sit-down restaurant with home-style Assyrian meals someday. Her passion for the authentic food of her people is obvious as she describes the hearty braised meats, tantalizing soups and cracked wheat dumplings stuffed with meat called kibbeh. In fact, it's almost possible to hear her salivating as she talks. And that love for the cuisine comes through with each delectable bite.
Since the Nineveh food truck got rolling, the community has embraced the Assyrian-style Middle Eastern food they serve. According to Jacob the hardest part of the whole venture was actually getting the truck to Olympia. Jacob
was living in Ohio at the time when Lisa found the truck on Craigslist in Michigan. Jacob drove the truck across the country with his best friend and it ended up taking them an entire week. Lisa chuckles retelling the story of its
journey. "It broke down in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota and a wheel had to be replaced." And as these things tend to go, "it happened over a holiday weekend. Then the part that was sent wasn’t right." But eventually the truck did arrive and with some minor fix-ups they were in business.
And business is good. They are growing slowly and thoughtfully. When asked about plans to expand their selection of ready to eat foods in markets Lisa was hopeful. "Maybe next year. We're not trying to expand too much since we're still operating out of our food truck and commissary (a licensed and inspected kitchen facility for food preparation)" she explains, "It would be easier if we had our own restaurant and kitchen." For now you'll have to get your fix at the food truck or pick up some of their ready-to-eat foods at Farm Fresh Market. You can currently find tabouleh, kale and lentil salad, fava bean and chickpea salad, pickled beets and turnips, baba ganoush, and za'taar pita chips. Or keep them in mind if you have an event coming up. They love to cater and create unique menus for specific events. For more information or to check outtheir menu visit their website at nineveholympia.com.