Fitzroy North stalwart Moroccan Soup Bar is moving from dine-in to delivery and events

Hana Assifiri (centre) with Shaima El-Haouli and Mulki Ibahim at Moroccan Soup Bar Two Go.
Hana Assifiri (centre) with Shaima El-Haouli and Mulki Ibahim at Moroccan Soup Bar Two Go. Photo: Darrian Traynor

Pioneering Melbourne social enterprise Moroccan Soup Bar is ceasing dine-in service next month, citing concerns around COVID safety in the current phase of the pandemic and a litany of issues with its current site.

The business is reinventing itself as takeaway-only, and relaunching the Conversation Salon events that founder Hana Assafiri regularly ran before COVID-19.

Moroccan Soup Bar's famous chickpea bake.
Moroccan Soup Bar's famous chickpea bake. Photo: Marina Oliphant

"At my age, I cannot in all good conscience just continue to turn tables without a meaning attached to what we do," says Assafiri.

"The pandemic and its impact was profound, and it needs a profound, bold change to the way we do things. None of this snapping back to the way things were."

Assafiri founded Moroccan Soup Bar in Fitzroy North in 1998 after a career working with women affected by family violence. She combined that experience plus her values of social justice to the restaurant, employing women who were marginalised, charging fair prices and encouraging conversation between diners via communal seating and a spoken menu.

"The pandemic and its impact was profound, and it needs a profound, bold change to the way we do things."

It was an immediate hit for its radical model of menu-less, meat-less and alcohol-free dining that was loaded with feeling. Among the dishes that put the restaurant on the map was chickpea bake, an irresistible combination of toasted pita bread, chickpeas, yoghurt, almonds, garlic and butter.

Mid-pandemic, the restaurant had to relocate to its takeaway outlet, Moroccan Soup Bar Two Go, also in Fitzroy North. Assafiri and her team refitted the space for a post-lockdown world of outdoor and socially distanced dining.

But with the lease on that site now due for renewal and planning issues plaguing the use of a covered outdoor dining area, Assafiri decided it was time to try something new.

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"We have always used a crisis as an opportunity to reinvent and rethink," she says.

For the first time, the business will offer delivery, partnering with DoorDash, which Assafiri says aligns with Moroccan Soup Bar's values.

She is excited to reintroduce the Conversation Salon, which she describes as a banquet dinner with amazing speakers in different locations, taking it wherever there is demand, whether that's Geelong, Mornington or elsewhere.

Moroccan Soup Bar's banquet offered diners a chance to try a wide range of dishes.
Moroccan Soup Bar's banquet offered diners a chance to try a wide range of dishes. Photo: Joe Armao

On the agenda are what she sees as the most important issues of the day that are going unrecognised in public debate, including First Nations women's rights and climate change.

"We're taking a massive gamble on closing down a predictable establishment, an institution that is well loved," says Assafiri. "But we're hoping to invite our community to come on a different journey."

Details on the delivery service and conversation events will be confirmed in coming weeks, when Assafiri inks a deal with an environmentally sound commercial kitchen. She will continue to employ women from marginalised backgrounds.

Hana Assafiri at Moroccan Soup Bar's original Fitzroy North home.
Hana Assafiri at Moroccan Soup Bar's original Fitzroy North home. Photo: Joe Armao

The last service at the restaurant will be June 30.

Open Wed-Sat 5pm-9.30pm.

316 St George's Road, Fitzroy North, 03 9486 3500, moroccansoupbar.com.au/2-go