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Alumna Follows Her Passion to Become University City Restaurant Owner
Working as a laboratory manager at Penn, Kate Aiq (Steenstra) PH/TX’10 was applying her degree in the way she’d imagined after graduating from USciences. But Aiq always had one foot in the service industry, working restaurant jobs all over the city to make some extra money throughout college and while she transitioned into her career.
On an off day away from the laboratory, as well as her job at a craft beer bar in the suburbs, Aiq met her future husband, a moment that would change both her personal and professional life. Yasser, who had worked his way up from immigrant to citizen in high-end kitchens in Center City, was one of the opening chefs at Parc. As they began dating the two found that their experiences and styles formed a partnership that expanded beyond their relationship.
“That is when we rolled the dice, and I decided to quit my job and devote myself to Renata's Kitchen,” said Aiq, about taking the dive to open a restaurant.
“What students at USciences are learning now can absolutely be applied to many, many industries,” she said. “The skills I learned at USciences in the Pharmacology/Toxicology program have made me a more efficient business woman and my learned ability to sift through data has helped me to spot trends in sales, inventory, preferences, etc. My scientific background has helped me to analyze problems that arise objectively and dissect the problem, and find the most elegant long-term solutions.”
In 2012, Renata’s started as a modest, neighborhood café on Locust Street, but it was when they expanded the menu to include brunch that the couple saw things really take off.
The eight-year journey since has seen numerous ups and downs, the lowest being a fire in March 2015 that forced a move to Baltimore Ave. The two overcame that to build a brand new kitchen at their new location that opened in Sept. 2015, just one month after they were married.
Over the next four and a half years they operated as a BYOB, and soon found they were ready to make an expansion into dinner, particularly Middle Eastern specialties.
“Our issue was that we were squeezing a size 12 foot in a size eight shoe at 45th street,” said Aiq.
In February, Kate and Yasser Aiq moved Renata’s to a larger space in the renovated 40th Street Trolley Portal Garden (3940 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia, PA). The new location is seven times the size of the old location, with the kitchen being nearly as large as their entire previous location (4533 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA), which will remain open serving “light bites & Café fare.”
“Over the years we've met so many community leaders, artists, and neighbors, and we've been honored to be a meeting place for these folks to come together for meetings, lunches, celebrations, and even rarely to cheer up,” said Aqi. “It has been so cool to see such a different view of the neighborhood than I experienced as a student at USciences. Watching the kids in the neighborhood grow up has been a special part of my job.”
Renata’s had been open for about a month at 40th Street before the mandated close due to COVID-19. In a location accustomed to the ebb and flow of guests with the transition of students and semesters, the sudden vacuum of students leaving and universities and businesses closing has been shocking.
“But the community support has been incredible,” said Aiq. “We're lucky to have partners like University City District and Penn who have sponsored meals for first responders, and have given us some catering jobs for them.”
In addition to remaining open for takeout and catering, Renata’s is currently offering a gift card matching program and encouraging guests to download their app (text RENATA to 33733) to order instead of using Grubhub and Uber Eats, which take a portion of sales.
Aiq offered encouragement to USciences students going through similar uncertainty and transition.
“You're learning valuable skills here at USciences, but please don't ever let anyone pigeon hole you,” said Aiq. “As a student, I never thought I'd own and operate a restaurant...I kept getting drawn into hospitality and discovered a passion. Use what you've got, and follow your spirit.”
Categories: News, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Community, Alumni, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmacology and Toxicology. Coronavirus, West Philadelphia