Sustenance and Succulents

Find nourishment at the Wednesday market on Skiles Walkway
Georgia Tech Community Market // Photo by Maeve Mobley

Pickles and edible cookie dough are just two among the many goods sold at stalls at the Community Market on Skiles Walkway. Vendors come to Georgia Tech from all over Atlanta to sell their food every Wednesday. It is probably the highlight of my week. At the very end of the row near the student center stands a red tent accompanied by a lengthy line of hungry people monitored by baby orange cones. They patiently wait for heartwarming Moroccan food at Marrakech Express. Across the sidewalk, one can find stands of succulents and fairy houses for planting. People gather around to propagate their own plant or get a taste of whimsy for the day at What the Succulent.

Marrakech Express

Chef Amal Alaoui // Photo by Maeve Mobley

Chef Amal Alaoui has been surrounded by gifted women her whole life. She grew up in a big house in Marrakech City, Morocco, with the cooking of her mother, grandmother, and big sister. Alaoui started cooking as a hobby, and then she married into a cooking family. Her husband’s grandmother was a well-known chef in Morocco. They lived together with Aloui’s mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, who are all older women who carried strong relationships with cooking. Her husband noticed her cooking hobby was growing and encouraged her to learn more under a professional chef, so she met Chef Karima in Marrakech City. Chef Karima taught her how to cook more intricate Moroccan dishes like bastilla and chicken m’hammar for larger events and weddings.

In 2015, Aloui and her husband moved to Atlanta, after which Marrakech Express was born. She got her start at We Suki Suki, a small food court in East Atlanta Village. Her “small stand [with] a big, big heart” quickly gained publicity, and she began applying to other farmers’ markets. The line at her stand was always the longest in all seven markets she attended, she said.

It is no different for the line at the Georgia Tech Community Market. I used to be intimidated when I searched for a place to direct my hunger. The red tent gave me people I could trust. For four years, Aloui and her team have been coming to the Community Market at Skiles Walkway. Like many others before me, I had the pleasure of waiting in line for chicken shawarma with hot sauce. I could feel my stomach progressively getting hungrier as I moved along the line. I announced my hunger to Aloui while she made my plate, and she said he loves hungry people. I felt cared for; she fed me and made me feel loved — a specific kind of love one only receives from the finest cooking. Aloui shared a little bit of the connection she has with the students at Georgia Tech.

“I feel they are my children, I swear. I feel sad when I sell out and I find the line; I feel my children are still hungry,” Aloui said. She has relationships with her customers and knows many of them by name. When they graduate, many students go straight to Marrakech Express for graduation party catering. Aloui encounters loyal customers following her and her team around the different markets of Atlanta. She can see the happiness her food gives others.

Don’t doubt the magic in her dishes, she said. “It is not normal food — it is right from the heart.”

Aloui is currently searching for a permanent restaurant space in Atlanta. Until then, students can get in line every Wednesday (and some Mondays) at the red tent for some delicious food from the heart.

Chef Amal Aloui // Photo by Maeve Mobley

What the Succulent

Caitlin Cash // Photo by Maeve Mobley

A table of petite fairy houses and potted green plants catches one’s eye at the market. At the table stands Caitlin Cash, owner of What the Succulent. She attributes a lot of her success in this venture to her family, starting with her parents, both talented gardeners. According to Cash, “when you got in trouble as a kid, you had to weed the garden instead of going to your room, and I actually liked it.” She has carried her love of plants with her to this day.

Cash has had a unique career path. Among her experience is 10 years in healthcare, as well as administration and support specialist positions at a tech company. From nonprofit work to corporate sales — not to mention learning from her uncles’ businesses on a fishing boat and a mushroom farm — Cash’s variety of jobs gave her the tools she needed to start her own business. Working in corporate sales confirmed Cash’s disdain for selling things that weren’t hers. She felt stuck.

Then, a tragedy changed everything. Cash’s best friend died in a bike accident, and she planted his ashes in an avocado bonsai tree. She honored her best friend’s memory by sustaining a new life. The plant collection grew after Cash took in all of her office’s plants over the COVID-19 lockdown. It was Cash’s father who pushed her to start selling plants because they simply had too many in the house, and she combined his idea with her love of fairy houses for planters.

Cryptid Creatives was Cash’s first market in Atlanta. The fairy house planters were a hit and have been since. Now she is all over different markets, with bigger things to come. Cash plans to add a greenhouse to What the Succulent and to begin to employ ex-convicts. She is grateful for the support she has received from her family, and she wants to pay it forward.

Regarding advice for those looking to start a small business, Cash said “don’t get discouraged, because you’re gonna get knocked down. I’ve had my umbrella run over [by a car] one week. I’ve had like $7 in sales. I’ve had a whole crop ruined by it raining and dumping water all over my waterverse lithops … You have to have really good discipline. Yeah. And calendars — use a lot of calendars.”

Regarding the personal benefits of planting, “there’s just something kind of meditative about planting and pruning and keeping it alive,” she said. “You’re like, I did this. I grew this. I made this and it’s alive because I gave it love.”

Interested readers can visit her propagation station (pay-what-you-can) every other Wednesday on Tech Green from 10-2 and follow @whatthesucculentatl on Instagram for more information.

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