30 Nov 2017
Marrakesh, Morocco
Sustainable Food and Agriculture

There is a little something for everyone to be found at AYASO Concept Store in the heart of Gueliz, Marrakesh’s “new city.” Walking past the shop, friends can be seen drinking fresh juices, chowing down on plates piled high with healthy greens — inside, shelves stacked with organic and natural food and cosmetics products, stocked from cooperatives and suppliers in both Morocco and Europe.

AYASO Concept Store opened its doors in June 2014. Its owners, Monika and Kamal El Baroudi, were new parents, wondering how to serve their young daughters healthy and naturally-sourced food. Inspired by the work of French environmentalist Pierre Rabhi, the couple sought to create a space where their family and others could access organic food and beauty care cosmetics to heal from the inside out. AYASO Concept Store is also a conference space, with free, weekly events focusing on everything from healthy eating to alternative living.

Over the past three years, the El Baroudi family has seen their clientele grow and change. “We switched to more Moroccan clients,” explains Monika. “Before we were more popular with foreigners.” She thinks part of this shift is because organic and natural products are now trendy, but that another percentage of the clientele do genuinely see the value in their products because of a doctor’s advice or a mindset shift.

Those products include Moroccan-produced items such as Spirulina (a superfood made from algae), ground moringa, and locally-grown quinoa. Other Moroccan products include honey, olive oil, and Amlou, a delicious nut spread made from almonds, argan oil, and honey.

Connecting the green-minded community:

While being a store, restaurant, and conference venue would be enough — AYASO is more than that. It is also a community hub for the sustainably-minded.

“We are the people who connect everyone,” says Monika, with a smile. “You can come here and you’ll never sit along at a table. I talk a lot — that’s my job here. I know the stories of my clients, and sometimes I know people should get together because they’re working on similar projects.”

AYASO’s latest attempt to foster that collaboration is a weekly Saturday farmer’s market that attracts farmers and producers from across the Marrakesh region and beyond. “We don’t charge them anything,” says Monika, speaking about their space on the second floor of the shop. “The idea is that our customers can go directly client-to-producer. And the farmers always go back from the market empty handed because we take everything that remains to use in the restaurant.”

In addition to providing a physical space for the farmer’s market, Monika says it is also a space for idea exchange. “We are on a mission to connect people so they can make something bigger,” she explains. “We are now seeing a snowball effect of farmers helping one another, and understanding that together we can make something bigger.”

Expanded menu, expanded hours:

The farmer’s market has made Saturday a bestselling day for AYASO, and the fresh vegetables and products have contributed to what is now a full vegetarian menu.

Customers can tuck in and enjoy a variety of salads, including the AYASO Salad Plate which includes a mix of greens with combined Moroccan and European flavors. A quiche is made with local goat’s milk and cheese. Seasonal pumpkin is blended into a creamy soup, and greens are sandwiched between whole-wheat bread. “Here you will never get the same plate,” Monika says. “Everything changes with the season with the different vegetables we get from farmers — everything goes on the plate.”

Restaurant staff are trained at the Amal Center, a Marrakesh-based non-profit dedicated to empowering disadvantaged women with culinary and life skills.

AYASO Concept Store is also open extended hours, and seven days a week. Clients are suggesting a branch be started in Casablanca or Rabat, but Monika says it is more likely they will soon see an online shop for bioproducts. “We also suggest our producers go to other shops and sell their products. We are not a monopoly, and we want to see our suppliers in the medina and in riads,” she says.

Wherever it expands, the AYASO team is sure to keep its original values in mind: raising awareness about the importance of a healthy diet that is respectful of your body and the environment — and convincing more Moroccan farmers that organic farming methods are the way of the future.



Facebook: www.facebook.com/ayasoconceptstores

Photos: Courtesy of Hilary Duff and Ayaso Concept Store.

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
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