Chams Lebanese Cuisine looks to strike oil with natural product

Chams Ekelman and Rizkallah Helou, the co-owners of Chams Lebanese Cuisine, proudly showcase their virgin olive oil that is for sale from Lebanon. (Photo by Jenna Pierson)

PARKERSBURG — Hundreds upon hundreds of vibrant green olives climb an industrial belt and then tumble into a whirring giant vat, where they are pressed to produce a beautiful liquid known as 100 percent virgin olive oil.

Chams Ekelman and Rizkallah Helou, the brother and sister co-owners of Chams Lebanese Cuisine on Market Street in Parkersburg, swell with pride as they show a video of how the process to make imported olive oil from their hometown of Sarba, Lebanon, begins.

Their family-owned olive farm is spread across multiple properties, employs 30 people and has existed for generations, according to Helou. Their brothers are in charge of harvesting and production operations.

“We don’t use any chemicals, no fertilizer, nothing,” Helou said. “Just by nature, that’s why we concentrate the best.”

Hundreds of olive trees form intricate rows, with some of the trees being nearly 200 years old.

“You can use it like medicine,” Helou said. “It’s good for many types of sickness like kidney stones, diabetes and [high] cholesterol.”

According to research, virgin olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that has been said to decrease inflammation and the risk of heart disease in moderate quantities.

The olive oil is processed in Lebanon and shipped to Cleveland, Ohio, where it is then transported to Athens, Ohio, to be bottled. The duo received their first shipment from their homeland last year.

“It’s so nice to smell it,” Ekelman said. “You smell your hometown and your garden and your family.”

The olive oil is available for purchase in 17-ounce bottles at both the restaurant and Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg.

Ekelman and Helou hope to expand their business further in the future to include other olive oil-based products.

According to Helou, none of the olives go to waste. The olives that fall on the ground prior to fall harvest are used to make soap, which he hopes to also sell soon.

Ekelman and Helou came to America in 1988 as refugees fleeing the Lebanese Civil War, while the rest of their family was displaced from their hometown to Lebanon’s capital of Beirut for many years.

Helou was a teacher in Cleveland, and Ekelman was working for a marketing business when they decided to change careers.

They have owned and operated Chams Lebanese Cuisine for 15 years now, after they were encouraged by friends to open a restaurant.

Both Ekelman and Helou expressed their love for the community and all the support they have continued to receive throughout the years.

“We’ve met a lot of good people,” Ekelman said. “And I always believe that what you want to be you can be … this is America and I love this country and I am so proud to be an American citizen.”

Jenna Pierson may be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com


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