Farrah Skeiky | Dim Sum Media
Farrah is a food photographer and media strategist by day, a music photographer by night, an intermediate record collector on weekends, and always hungry. Farrah is also the founder of Dim Sum Media, a DC based company that create customized, effective strategies for DC's growing culinary community. Farrah is a woman we #pinefor and we sat down with her for tea and vegan treats a few months back to chat about her food heritage, how she became a badass business owner and her hope for the food system at large.
All photos courtesy of Farrah Skeiky and Dim Sum Media
What is your food heritage? What are the smells and flavors from childhood that have influenced your taste today?
Pungent is the first word that comes to mind - I have very vivid memories of walking up the hill to my house from the bus stop and smelling strong flavors as I got closer, which was often a West African stew with a very stinky fish that my mom was making. I’m Lebanese and Sierra Leonean and I’ve never shied away from strong textures and smells because of this heritage. Don’t get me wrong - I wanted American food growing up, especially lunchables with the turkey and cheese, but I am so glad that my mom continued to cook food that represented the cultures my parents grew up with. For a while, I thought I was the only kid who ate weird food at home but then I found Filipino food. I had a Filipino friend who would invite me over for celebrations, where there is so much food and so many aunties that you’re not sure who is actually related to whom, and we would all go home with styrofoam containers stacked with leftovers. The vibe was so similar to my own family and I could relate to their relationship with food but the food itself was different in flavors and ingredients. Between my mom who was an adventurous cook and growing up with friends from all over, I have an appreciation for the fact that there is history in food and I love that it is a way to learn about other places.
What draws you to the food industry and in particular, what gets you excited about the food industry in DC?
I meet incredible people everyday, and get to hear their stories. I learn so much and taste so much every day and everyone is doing something unexpected. There are increasingly more women of color in the industry and I love that too. I did not know that I would land up in this industry. I graduated with a degree in journalism at a time when there was no job waiting for me. I had done everything I was supposed to do and it was disheartening. And so I was in a position where I had to figure it out and I am so glad that this is where that path has taken me.
Tell us about Dim Sum Media - what is the story behind the name and what makes Dim Sum unique?
I used to write about music and I started writing more food stories - I’m not a critic but I love people’s stories and sharing about their journeys, perhaps about how they got to opening a restaurant or why making food brings them to life. One night, my friend had double booked a writing assignment and I went in her place. It was the opening for the Dolcezza Factory. I loved Dolcezza and met Robb and Violeta (the owners) there. This was such a huge moment for them and it was a story I wanted to tell. Once the photos and story went up, Violeta reached out and asked if I’d like to join them part time. For a while it was a lot of part time and side gigs - working with Daikaya, Room 11, Bad Saint and Anxo. I soon realized that I cared a lot about the people behind these companies too - they were not just my clients, and I no longer wanted this to just be part time.
Why the name Dim Sum?
There are many reasons! When I think of a traditional PR firm, it’s usually a full packaged deal you are buying into. In the restaurant world, this is equivalent to a fixed price menu. I liked the idea of clients being able to pick and choose from offerings and services - like you would at a Dim Sum restaurant. Another reason is that that Asian food and culture have always been important to me. I grew up eating pho and was obsessed with Japanese and Chinese food too. To be honest, I was always grateful for Asian food cultures because they made me appreciate my own food culture and showed me that it was not weird. Lastly, I like doing a lot of different things - I am a strong writer, photographer, I can run email campaigns or help with web design or do pop-up events. So Dim Sum means a little bit of this and that and this way, everyone - including me! - gets to choose.
Have you always wanted to start a business? If so, why? If not, how did you find yourself in that position and what is that experience like?
I did not always want to start a business. No one goes into the food industry to make money - it’s not simple and it’s rather stressful. I never thought it was going to be an option for me. I thought I would find a high profile job that paid well - like my dad did. My parents grew up in countries that were still reeling from conflict and civil war and worked hard so there was a lot of pressure to have a profession that is easily understood or explainable. I second guessed myself a lot. Over time, I’ve become much less stressed out and I don’t give in to that pressure as much. I choose my battles wisely and I am more discerning in deciding what deserves my stress.
What are the lessons you've learned about crafting your own career path? What are the factors that have both bolstered you and that you've had to overcome?
You don't have to do it alone. You are not a failure if you ask for guidance. It is ok to be unsure and question what you are doing, it doesn't mean you are weak - it means you are taking a step back and trying to make the best decision. I’ve learned that it’s not just about me - it’s about the clients I work with because it’s their livelihoods too. We are all in this together so it’s good for all of us if we can open up and share not just our successes but also when we need help. We haven’t always had a culture or sense of generosity with time and advice but it feels like there is a new sisterhood now. Women around my age are a big part of this shift - we ask each other questions, even around basic things like what accountant to use, because we know that we all benefit from that generosity and sense of community.
I’ve also learned that I couldn’t do it by myself - I hired my first intern because I realized that bringing other people in doe not mean that I am not enough but that I and my business are growing. I’m quickly learning that while we glamorize girl boss culture, we don’t always have to hustle and grind. I need to take care of myself - it’s cool to get enough sleep and stay in tonight. I have learned that I need to prioritize myself and I put time for cooking or spending time with friends in my google calendar because it is just as important.
I know that I am dedicated to DC and want to stay - someone told me that staying local to DC was going to be unsustainable for my business long term. But I want to prove them wrong and the hospitality industry is the reason I am staying. I am proud to be a part of this community and to work with the people who make it incredible. I don’t want to leave before the end of the show - and it’s not the end of the show - I want to see my clients reach success that they have not yet but I know is coming.
What do you think the common misconceptions are about branding and communications as you see evident in your clients?
A lot of small businesses are afraid of the word of brand - it feels manufactured, stale and empty. It doesn't have to be like this - what are the parts of your story and personality that you think are important and let's focus on that. It doesn’t have to be the most obvious thing - for example, there’s a dog on the Craft Kombucha logo and music is a part of Dolcezza’s brand - it brings personality to it and helps differentiate you. Your brand is whatever you want it to be and you have to focus on what you want to get across.
What's next for you? What’s next for Dim Sum?
We are just at the beginning. The people here are not stopping and neither am I. There are so many new businesses owned by women and people of color. There are also so many people coming to DC from all over the world and they add so much to the food scene. I’m here for that and I want to keep taking photos and telling stories about that. There will definitely be more Dim Sum events, and a podcast coming out. That’s all I will say about that for now!
At pineapple DC, we're all about creating a better food system in ways big and small. What's one hope (or more) that you would have for DC or our country's food system?
I am such a fan of healthy fast casual - I love Cava and Sweetgreen. Shouk also opened and provides delicious vegan options. However, we need to be thinking about accessibility and diversity in the food industry. It’s slowly happening - Bad Saint and Thip Khao have been important players in this and many people in the past would not have eaten those types of food. But I want to see more of that, particularly Asian and West African cuisine. I want to see this kind of ethnic food elevated from cheap eats to real contenders in the DC and national food industry.