July 25, 2023
Suman Hoque, owner of HoQ Restaurant in Des Moines' East Village
CultureALL is partnering with HoQ to host a dinner event on Wednesday, August 9th, from 5-9 pm.
“Food speaks culture. People don’t know how we lived in our home countries, but sharing food shares our lifestyle. Food brings everybody together,” said HoQ owner Suman Hoque.
Suman, who owns HoQ Restaurant in Des Moines’ East Village, uses food as a way to connect with the kaleidoscope of cultures around him. Originally from Bangladesh, he’s built a strong kitchen staff around him who are from Mexico and Central America, a staff to whom he attributes much of his restaurant’s success.
That staff has helped him build a farm to table concept menu with global influences. Working with local and state-wide vendors, HoQ’s menu features staples from around the world, from America’s Southern favorite fried green tomatoes to Bangladeshi chicken on a stick.
Suman believes in food’s ability to connect people across differences. He’s seen it firsthand with his own business, and he hopes his restaurant will help others to recognize the shared humanity between different cultures.
Suman’s culinary education began long before he ever discovered his love for cooking.
His passion for sustainable, natural food production started in his childhood in Bangladesh. His family would purchase fresh meat and produce from neighbors and local markets. Knowing exactly where their food came from provided a level of trust in what they were eating.
“Your rice, your fish, your chicken—it was less processed, and there was nothing between you and the food,” he explained.
Suman went on to attend culinary school in Geneva, Switzerland, before moving to the United States to work as a chef in 2005. He quickly realized food production in America differed greatly from his home country. He asked where the food came from at his first restaurant job in Vail, Colorado.
“People just didn’t know,” he said. “A truck brings food in from commercial farming and it’s already done. You don’t know where it’s been.”
Suman eventually moved to the Des Moines area after his wife, Cynthia, enrolled in medical school at Des Moines University. When Suman opened HoQ in 2012, he knew he wanted to source fresh ingredients from local farmers right away.
Eleven years later, you can still taste the difference.
“If you’ve had real, fresh chicken before and then you eat commercial chicken, it’s way different,” he said. “We feature the whole ingredient, rather than a heavy sauce on top to cover all the non-tasty stuff of commercial chicken.”
HoQ’s ingredients come from local farmers and family-owned stores mostly in Central Iowa, with a few from other parts of the state. This not only allows him access to high-quality ingredients but also keeps his money local. His sound equipment and payroll management even come from businesses in West Des Moines.
HoQ has provided Suman the opportunity to plant roots in his community and foster genuine supportive relationships. He cares about these small businesses, and they’ve proven to care about him as well.
“During the COVID-19 shutdown, Lost Lake Farm [in Jewell] emailed me right away. I typically buy a few hundred dollars worth of cheese from them,” he said. “They told me I didn’t have to pay right away since I was shut down because of COVID. I wouldn’t have gotten that from a big company.”
“I want to represent where I live,” Suman explained. “I’m from Bangladesh; people from Mexico and El Salvador work here; we meet many people from Minnesota or the South and other cultures. America is multicultural.” This inspired him to create a menu that represents more than just his own history.
HoQ’s menu features cuisine from all over the world. The kitchen makes Bangladeshi naan in-house each day to use in several dishes, one of which is called “naanza,” his take on pizza made with naan. There are several Latin-inspired dishes, such as the masa empanada or the free-range chicken burrito. Diners can also travel over to Europe with a Mediterranean bowl or salmon tartare.
Suman’s most well-known dish is his organic breakfast wrap. Made out of naan bread and fried organic egg with your choice of sausage or vegetables, you can purchase a wrap at Gateway Market or HyVee. You can even line up outside HoQ to try a burrito Saturday mornings when they set up a tent.
Suman has come to understand how food is an important vehicle for sharing culture throughout his culinary career. He has grown close with his kitchen staff, who are largely from Mexico and Central America, by learning how to cook new dishes and understanding how to use their ingredients. His head chef, Santiago, has brought in his family members to experiment in the kitchen, trying out different Latin-inspired recipes for the HoQ menu.
The cultural lessons in food Suman has received from his staff have become a model for how he connects with farmers and vendors around the state of Iowa. These personal experiences lead to better, more inclusive communities.
“I’m Muslim,” he said. “When I go to small-town Iowa and meet farmers, they’ve most likely never met a Muslim person. When I talk with these farmers and buy their products, they realize that this Muslim guy is just like them. I’m just a person.”
Join CultureALL and HoQ to celebrate Mexican culture and connect with your community on August 9th. Experience first-hand the impact of interacting with different cultures: the ability to bridge differences and become a better friend, neighbor, and community member. Proceeds from the event will support CultureALL’s programming and help Iowans value the cultures in their communities. Seats are limited—get your ticket today.