Kamal Hammouda, the now retired chef at Relish in Grinnell, said if elected, his strong points are the ability and willingness to listen to and respect opposing views. Community building is also something he prides himself in doing.
“For me, service is about community, how we can give and how we can help, not about party politics or any tribal tendencies,” said Kamal, who is seeking the Iowa House District 76 seat on the Independent ticket.
Kamal will face off in the November General Election against Sarah Smith, a Grinnell Democrat, and Dave Maxwell, a Deep River Republican and incumbent who is seeking his fourth term in the Iowa House.
Kamal was born in Egypt and immigrated to the United States in 1976 where he studied engineering at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
When asked why he came to America, Kamal said, “Freedom of Expression.”
He worked as a cook while in college and ended up liking it better than engineering.
After accepting a job in Des Moines, Kamal made a stop in Grinnell and decided to relocate to the Poweshiek County community.
His culinary arts career began in 1982. Ten years later, Kamal opened his first restaurant, the Last Egyptian, in a storefront in downtown Grinnell in 1992. Three years later, Kamal moved to the restaurant’s current location on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Park Street.
“When we lost our lease on the Last Egyptian, our customers got together and funded us to open the Phoenix,” he said.
In 2011, Kamal and crew were planning to move to a bigger facility but the lease did not work out, so they rebranded in the same location in 2012 as Relish. The restaurant specializes in local foods produced in and around Poweshiek County. Customers will find everything from great burgers and steaks to European and Mediterranean dishes.
Kamal retired in late July to focus on his campaign.
“My assistant of 10 years is now cooking with occasional help from me,” he said.
Kamal was married to Laura Fendt in 1985. Laura was his house mate in Chicago. She is a practicing Catholic and Kamal is a practicing Muslim.
“We both have a great deal of respect for each other’s beliefs,” Kamal said in a previous interview.
The couple has three boys, Mustafa, Adam and Rasheed, all raised in Grinnell.
Laura currently owns and is running Relish, as she has done since 2012.
When asked what inspired him to enter the political arena, Kamal pointed out two reasons. They are:
1.Political attacks on immigrants and Muslims despite their on-going contributions to every facet of life in the U.S.
2.The current political polarization, where people no longer talk civilly to one another, but yell at each other and name call. Compromise has become a dirty word.
If elected, Kamal said he is optimistic, noting that when he is elected, that he would like to work on a plan to have all able bodies be able to work with dignity. He also wants child care improved and funded to nurture good future citizens, and farmers helped to be the best stewards of their land and the environment.
“And to compromise when needed to achieve results,” he said.
In addition to operating a restaurant, Kamal has served on the Human Rights Commission in Grinnell. In college, he worked for the late Sen. Paul Simon from Illinois. He recently advocated for Andrew Yang for President.
“I served on the Galaxy board when it was operating, and have served on the board of Imagine Grinnell since 2018,” said Kamal.
When asked to share something interesting about himself, Kamal said he loves to read and to learn.
“I believe that there are many good people in both parties who mean and do well, but the current party institutions have become extreme and want power for the sake of power rather than serving the people that elected them,” noted Kamal. “When any of them express independence, they are marginalized if not excommunicated.”
For more information on Kamal, visit www.kamalforiowa2020. He can also be found on Facebook at Kamal for Iowa 2020.