Bohemian Rhapsody

A couple pairs his Tunisian hospitality with her flair for style and design to create two successful local enterprises.

Power couple Adnen and Lenora Marouani, owners of Barsha Wines & Spirits and The Souk in Manhattan Beach, are hardworking, driven, dedicated business owners. Yet they also possess a certain je ne sais quoi—that alluring mix of warmth, charisma and style that is hard to define yet subtly draws you into a comfortable place. It’s a type of hospitality and enjoyment of life you often find when traveling abroad.

They met at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas—both accomplished chefs. Lenora worked at Michelin-star Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Adnen was a seasoned restaurant owner and executive chef who was serving a prestigious, high-roller crowd at Caesars. A serendipitous meeting over Lenora’s desperate search for plate-perfect spinach was the beginning of a partnership in life and business.

On that exact day, Adnen came to the rescue. The encounter immediately sparked an interest. He invited her to grab a bite to eat. For Lenora, a casual get-together with a colleague seemed like a good idea.

“We really just wanted to bring the beauty of Tunisia here to the States—to showcase the beautiful, hand-made products from these passionate and hardworking artisans.”

Fast-forward several years later, and their passion for food and hospitality continues—along with a busy family life and raising two adorable children: Pash, 3½, and a relatively new-to-the-scene member of the family, little 10-month-old Sura.

Adnen’s home country of Tunisia is rich with French, Arabic and Mediterranean influences. It’s a multi-ethnic culture with roots back to the ancient city of Carthage on the bay of Tunis—known as one of the longest surviving and most powerful Mediterranean cities in existence before the Roman conquest.

“My fondest memory is being in the kitchen with my momma. That’s where the heart of our house was. That’s where I got nourishment and strength to face each day,” Adnen says. “I was a hands-on kinda kid, so being in the kitchen surrounded by all kinds of things to get my hands into was the perfect place. Growing up in my momma’s kitchen was what really created my love for food and hospitality. My mother was always ready to greet guests and family with a home-cooked meal. Incorporating her love of cooking and hospitable nature has helped me take our businesses to another level. How can you go wrong with good food, wine and a warm atmosphere?”

 

 

 

Lenora reminisces on an extended three-month stay in Tunisia with Adnen’s family that set the intention for their current entrepreneurial endeavors. “My fondest memory was the hospitality of Adnen’s family,” she shares. “‘Hospitality’ took on a whole new meaning! Any time we went to family or friends’ homes, we were met with warmth and lots of food. The other thing that really stood out was the strength of the women, especially the older women in Tunisia. Tunisian women rule!”

True to their culinary roots, Barsha Wines & Spirits offers small-production wines, unique spirits, craft beer and gourmet food in a stylish, industrial yet comfortable, open space. Barsha is a common saying in Tunisia that means “a lot” or “very much.” That sentiment translates into the care and consideration in designing the space that welcomes customers to relax, nibble and nosh.

Food offerings in Barsha’s tasting room include select cheese and charcuterie; fig tapenade; fresh-baked bread with a delicate golden brown crust and soft interior served with Tunisian olive oil or house-made hummus; arugula pistachio pesto; duck rillettes; harissa; and spice-roasted almonds.

Adnen mentions that the kale salad is a customer favorite. The flavor profile hints at traditional North African/Mediterranean style with fresh and dried fruits, toasted bread crisps, crumbled blue cheese, a yogurt honey dressing and pomegranate molasses. The mix of sweet and salty with the creamy tang of the blue cheese is reminiscent of the popular Waldorf salad.

Add a wine pairing, with the help of Adnen, and you will be hard-pressed not to be hooked on Barsha’s hospitality. The wine bar also offers grab-and-go food and wine gifts, picnic baskets and fare to enhance an outdoor adventure or perk up the menu for a home party.

While Adnen oversees Barsha, Lenora runs the daily operations at design store The Souk in Manhattan Beach. When asked about the inspiration for opening The Souk, she states, “We really just wanted to bring the beauty of Tunisia here to the States—to showcase the beautiful, hand-made products from these passionate and hardworking artisans.”

The quaint boutique occupies prime retail space in the heart of Downtown Manhattan Beach. The store reflects Lenora’s sophisticated yet understated, hip style and displays some of her favorite design accents and products that showcase the historically rich artisan culture of Tunisia and other neighboring Middle Eastern countries in North Africa.

Both she and Adnen have close ties with the artisans in Tunisia who provide many of their products; some are even family. On their last trip to Tunisia, they had an opportunity to establish and build on relationships with the ceramic makers, weavers, sewers and store owners of the souks—or marketplaces—that provide many of the handcrafted items they sell. “It’s an added bonus to help support all of these deserving artisans,” says Lenora.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her designer eye taps into the global, bohemian style that is so popular now: a mix of retro-chic Danish modern furniture; Tunisian pillows and blankets (modern neon pom-pom and traditional tribal style); metal-fabricated light fixtures hanging above the shop; and beautiful, handcrafted Tunisian pottery such as tagines and the Hamsa hand. The ethnic vibe and colorful rugs and ceramics create interest for those who pass by and peek in the oversized windows or stop in to shop.

 

With a focus on special selected items and unique, handcrafted pieces with artisan appeal, Lenora also offers her design sensibility to local clients who want to add some boho flair to their home or outdoor space. Moroccan Beni Ourain woven rugs and traditional Moroccan wedding blankets, contemporary leather poufs, kilims, Turkish and Tunisian tribal beach blankets, brass teapots filled with succulents, Arabian mirrors, perfume oils, shea butter and clean candle products, and traditional clothing items that fit perfectly into the sophisticated beach lifestyle are available.

You may choose from several colors and sizes of cozy babouches slippers, elegant yet casual Jebba cover-ups and handmade jewelry. Lenora even carries a few hard-to-find culinary items such as rose water and orange blossom water. Many items can also be shopped for online. The Souk is all about a communal atmosphere that celebrates home, family and style, with a focus on a pleasant mix of food, art and culture.

The Tunisia of Adnen’s youth “has come a long, long way,” he says. “Tunisia was the little country that created the ripple effect of change within many neighboring countries.” Little did they know how much power they really had as a people.

Despite all of the unfortunate recent events and political instability, Tunisia has grabbed onto freedom and held on. The country is currently building back its economy despite decreased tourism and international trade.

“My hope for Tunisia is for more doors of fair trade to be opened and more people from the States and abroad to visit this beautiful country,” Adnen says, “for the artisans, small business owners and hardworking citizens of Tunisia to thrive and flourish!”

 

 

 

 

 

BARSHA’S TUNISIAN SPICED ALMONDS

Use these nuts to accompany cheese and charcuterie. They are surprisingly good crumbled on chocolate ice cream. The spice blend is great on edamame with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, or on fish and chicken.

  • 1 cup toasted blanched whole almonds, toasted in oven at 400º until light brown (15 minutes)
  • 1 ounce Tabil spice mix (Tunisia’s main spice blend consisting of coriander, caraway, cumin, paprika, cayenne; sold at Barsha)
  • 1 tablespoon mild-flavored honey
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste

Mix nuts and spice mix together; spread on cookie sheet drizzled with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Cook at 375º for about 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Be careful not to overcook.

 

BARSHA’S KALE SALAD

Serves 4-6

  • 12 ounces lacinato kale, chopped (1 to 2 bunches)
  • 1 Fuji apple, medium to large, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 6 ounces golden or black raisins (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 ounces toasted almonds, chopped
  • 6 ounces red or green grapes, halved (1 to 2 bunches)
  • 2 ounces bread crisps (about ¼ cup lightly toasted, grated or finely diced bread, such as French)
  • Yogurt Honey Dressing (recipe follows)
  • drizzle of pomegranate molasses over finished salad*

Mix all salad ingredients together. Save a little of the toasted almonds to top off salad. Drizzle salad with pomegranate molasses to your liking.

*Can be found at specialty markets that carry Middle Eastern products or online.

 

YOGURT HONEY DRESSING

  • 1 cup plain yogurt, unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mild-flavored honey
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper (white or black or a blend)

Blend all ingredients together.

 

 

 

 

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