In Memoriam: Fouad El-Abd
Mohammad Fouad Yasser El-Abd's story would make one think that it was a script out of a Hollywood movie. Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, he would leave Tripoli during his late teens to make California his new home. From there, he would establish a canned food empire known as California Garden. The primary ingredient that he exported to the world was the fava bean, or known colloquially in the Arab world as "foul". Sadly, Fouad El-Abd unexpectedly passed away on Dec 17, 2020. Tripolicy would like to take the time to honor El-Abd and celebrate his many achievements throughout his life. Our deepest sympathies and condolences goes out to the El-Abd family and to our Tripolicy contributor, Maria El-Abd Yamak. May Allah (swt) grant him the highest level of Paradise.
Born in 1952 in Tripoli, Lebanon, El-Abd would grow up running through the historic Al-Bazerkan Souks to his father's store. Across his father's store was the famous Tripolitan breakfast spot, Dannoun, that served hummus, fatteh, and of course, foul, among others. At the age of 17, he left Tripoli, Lebanon to finish off his high school degree and then went on to pursue his bachelors degree at the California Polytechnic State University in Food Science. In an interview with Anthony Rahayel, El-Abd mentioned that he had failed a year of high school and that was the real reason why he went to California. Laughing it off, El-Abd went on to cite Bill Gates, who also had school troubles, and how during one exam, his friend had passed it while he had failed it. "A couple of years later, the friend who passed the exam would end up working for the company owned by the man (Bill Gates) who had failed that very exam," a beaming El-Abd said in the interview.
Never in a million years did El-Abd think that he would lead a business making foul. Growing up, his interests revolved around aerospace engineering. Whenever in Beirut, El-Abd would never miss the chance to go to Beirut's airport to witness the landing of MEA flights. However, his move to California would tweak his interest to a new field, namely canned foul. Having worked in supplying food equipment, El-Abd was exposed to the mechanical processes surrounding food and the necessary quality needed to maintain a fresh taste. This experience would serve as a major driver when he launched California Garden.
It wasn't until El-Abd's California Garden struck a licensing agreement with Kuwait Food Company did he see an exponential growth in sales, especially with the food processing plant that was constructed in Dubai. Furthermore, California Garden would expand its reach to more than just foul to include tuna, juices, canned fruit, among others.
Although El-Abd had left his hometown of Tripoli, Lebanon over 50 years ago, he did not miss the chance to go back and visit. Maria El-Abd Yamak, Fouad El-Abd's niece, describes how he was the driving force in always gathering the family together at various venues. He had a profound sense of responsibility being the oldest male in the family and was keen on keeping in touch with his extended family. In 2018, El-Abd inaugurated a high-tech nutrition lab for the Lebanese American University (LAU) campus in Jbeil (Byblos), Lebanon open for use for all students interested in food science and processes.
Fouad El-Abd is a testament to the strong, Lebanese work ethic. His story has given hope to many who look at a man who came to California with a couple hundred dollars yet was able to start a canned food empire that spread the simple idea of canned fava beans not only to all corners of the world but also to the NASA International Space Station! He leaves behind many who mourn for him and hope to expand on his passion of exporting the Lebanese and Arab cuisine to all humanity.
About the Author:
R. Mahmoud Yamak is a petroleum engineer currently residing in Dallas, TX. He is a commentator on Arab and Middle Eastern affairs who has previously written for the Daily Sabah, The New Arab, Muftah Magazine, among others.