Twenty years ago, if you’d asked Tony Carne where his life would lead, he probably wouldn’t have predicted owning a falafel shop in Kensington.
“From my teens to my thirties, I worked to travel,” he says. “For me, that’s what life was.”
After stints in Australia and South America, he landed a job running tours out of Cairo, which is where he met his wife, Kaz. “Randomly, we were both from Albury,” Tony says. “We got married out there on the Red Sea.”
With plans to start a family, the couple moved to Melbourne, had a daughter and took up roles in corporate travel until late 2018, when Kaz was suddenly diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
She sadly passed away a little over a year later. And shortly after, Tony left the travel industry behind to open Kazbah, an Egyptian-inspired vegetarian eatery – in Kaz’s honour. “She was a lifelong vegetarian and a lover of Egypt, obviously, having lived there for five years,” Tony says.
Embracing a meatless menu wasn’t just a way to pay homage to Kaz, but also to limit his environmental impact. “I’d worked in travel for such a long time, and I felt like I was really on the wrong side of the climate situation by [getting] people to go traveling,” says Tony. “I really wanted to show my daughter that we can do something that would give us some credits back on the other side.”
At Kazbah, Tony and co-owner Delwyn Ogden specialise in Egyptian-style falafel made with vibrant green fava beans as opposed to chickpeas (using a recipe from an Egyptian friend’s mum). They’re served in pitas, bowls and even vegan snack packs, piled high with crinkle-cut chips, vegan gravy and nutty tahini.
You’ll also find a few snacks – think turmeric-dyed tempura cauliflower; feteer, a thinly layered Egyptian pastry filled with cheese; and perhaps even “falafnuts” (doughnut-shaped falafels).
Though he currently manages the culinary operations, Tony’s plan is to eventually hand the reins to his team, which currently includes two women seeking asylum from Egypt.
“I got a grant from Melbourne City Council to turn this into a social enterprise,” says Tony. If all goes to plan, the grant will result in a franchise program, offering training and career opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers.
“We’ll spend a year teaching them everything they need to know about running a business and then gift it to them, giving them majority ownership.”
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