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Reem Assil Poker Strategy in Business and Arab Hospitality

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About this episode

In Episode 4 of The meez Podcast, host Josh Sharkey sits down with the successful chef, entrepreneur, activist, author, Reem Assil. They dive into a range of topics including starting restaurants, building culture, poker, parenting, and Arab hospitality.

Reem Assil is the founder of Reem's California, an Arab Street food restaurant in the Bay Area, and the author of the recently published book, Arabiyya

In the episode, Reem reveals that she got into poker during a transitional period in her life, which allowed her to develop confidence. The game also taught her how to not get caught up with the ups and downs and play the long game. 

They also discuss Reem's upbringing as a Palestinian Syrian and how it has informed her work as an activist and entrepreneur. She shares her experiences as a former labor and community organizer and the challenges of navigating the food industry as a woman of color. They also talk about her book, Arabiyya, which showcases her passion for preserving the culinary traditions of her culture while also pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new flavors.

In addition, they touch on the importance of building a strong culture within a restaurant, the challenges of parenting and running a business simultaneously, and the concept of Arab hospitality, which involves the sweet torture of excessive generosity and kindness.

Overall, this episode offers valuable insights into the mind of a successful entrepreneur and activist and how her experiences have shaped her approach to decision-making, leadership, and culture building.

Where to find Reem Assil: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:38) How poker impacts business decisions

(7:22) What does it mean to be a chef?

(11:14) How Reem operationalizes her kitchens

(14:04) The Traction model

(15:37) How Reem is building her legacy

(17:18) How to hire the right people

(19:12) Investing in language justice

(20:29) What is Arab hospitality?

(23:05) Balancing preserving traditions and evolving

(26:02) Colonialism and the language of cuisine

(27:57) The future of Reem’s California

(32:16) The joy of publishing Arabiyya

(34:45) The parallels of Arab and Mexican traditions

(37:24) Reem on reclaiming her identity

(39:40) Reem’s mentors and inspiration

(40:55) Lessons learned from motherhood

(44:43) Reem on growing dreams, television shows, and social justice


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:  

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


My guest today is the badass entrepreneur, activist, author, public speaker, former labor and community organizer, and to top it off, after my own heart, a damn good poker player, Reem Assill. Her upbringing as a Palestinian Syrian has informed so much of what she does today.

She's the founder of Reems California, a restaurant in the Bay Area. She's the author of the recently published book, Arabiyya. She's been nominated for a James Beard Award and won countless other awards, including Rising Star Chef and Top 10 new restaurants in America from food and wine. We had such a blast.

We talked about starting restaurants, building culture, how poker influences decision making, what we learned from parenting, and why Arab hospitality is akin to sweet torture in the best way imaginable. I hope you enjoy the conversation.


This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software. Those are important, but they don't address the actual process of cooking, training, collaboration, and consistent execution.

So I decided if it didn't exist, I'd do my best to get it built. So the current and next generation of culinary pros have a digital tool dedicated to their craft. If you're a chef, mixologist operator, or generally if you manage recipes intended for professional kitchens, meez is built just for you.

Organize, share, prep, and scale your recipes like never before, and get laser accurate food costs and nutrition analysis faster than you could imagine. Learn more at


Reem, welcome to the podcast. 

Reem Assil [00:02:22]: 

Thanks for having me. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:23]: 

I am so freaking excited to have you here. There is a lot we can talk about, but we were just talking about this, so I'm going to jump in with something not food related, b poker because we both share a love of poker, which I didn't know until recently.

Reem Assil [00:02:38]: 

Yes you do. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:38]:

You know, I've always been fascinated with the decision making of poker and I feel like there's this microcosm between making decisions at the poker table and the way that people perceive how we make decisions in business and they just see like, yes, no, I did this or I spent this much or this little, or I decided to do this thing at this time.


And we know that there's so much more that goes into that and that's why I love poker so much, you know? What's your position? What's your chip stack? What are the implied odds? What's the expected value? How are the behavior, the people around you, how do you feel today? All that stuff goes into the decision that you make. And I'm curious, one, why do you love the game and how does poker impact the way that you make decisions in your business? 

Reem Assil [00:03:11]: 

Yeah. Well, I guess I got into the game during a transition moment in my life where I was having an existential crisis of who I was, and I think poker really levels the playing field between everybody, right? Like it's a game of wits, and if whoever does the studying can master the game, it's like one of those games that are easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master, which is my approach to life. I just love being a student. So I just became really obsessed. And I think being at the poker table, I was able to be someone who I wasn't in real life.


I was really timid. I was afraid of taking chances. I was afraid of being assertive, knowing my value and you get to be this alter ego where you can kind of go for it at the poker table. And so as I played more poker in my real life, I became more confident. So I think there was something about that sort of meta psychological piece.

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