Azhar grew up in Amman, Jordan the daughter of two Palestinian academics. Having moved from one Arabic country to another during the French and British Mandates, her parents settled in Amman in the late 1970’s, and they brought with them a kaleidoscope of memories and flavors. Her mother was an accomplished home cook, interweaving diverse Eastern Mediterranean tastes into a culinary prowess known throughout the community. Azhar recalls several instances where her mother, who insisted on sampling each dish prior to serving it to her guests, whisked away everything on the table and refused to serve the dinner as nothing met her exacting criteria. Her mother’s strict standards in the kitchen extended to her professional philosophy: a headstrong mathematician, she pushed her three daughters to pursue pragmatic careers, leaving creative endeavors to pastime pursuits.
In the 1990’s, Azhar, who was then in her teens, immigrated with her family to Wellesley, MA. In 1997, she followed the scientific and mathematical paths expected of her by enrolling at MIT for a Computer Science degree. But her creative interests never wavered, and she pursued a liberal arts degree from Wellesley College in tandem with her hard science training. Upon graduating, she briefly sought a career in law before redirecting her focus toward technology and business.
After earning a graduate degree from Haas Business School, she landed a job with Google, leading the marketing team on the launch of the company’s first Android phone. Launching new services at Google became her trajectory for the next seven years. From 2007 to 2014, she oversaw the debut of Google I/O, Chromebooks, and Google Fiber. She received a number of accolades for her campaigns, including two Emmy Awards, a Clio, and an Effie.
Despite all of these accomplishments, Azhar began to feel restless. At the apex of her marketing career at one of the most innovative companies worldwide, she decided to dedicate herself to a new, “soulful” endeavor: opening a restaurant that celebrates the home cooked foods of the Eastern Mediterranean. Tawla, which means both backgammon and table in Arabic, fills a void in the dynamic Bay Area foodscape by showcasing both traditional and contemporary renditions of dishes found throughout Greece, Turkey, the Levant, and Iran. From mezes to large format dishes, the restaurant focuses on a festive sense of abundance, intensity of flavor, and warm hospitality. With all of Azhar's previous experience, the rigors of her scientific training along with her technological and business background have armed her with an industriousness and systematic approach that are necessary tools for running a restaurant. These skills have enabled her to provide structure and accountability in what remains a deeply inventive pursuit, thereby “engineering creativity.”
To discover more about Azhar’s musings on food, travel, and culture, visit her blog Fleeting Moments by Azhar Hashem.