Choosing your career path can feel quite daunting, especially, when you are looking at a career that requires years of investment to progress successfully, such as the food business or the food industry itself.
Hence, being a woman in that career, which requires years of work experience and hard work, in order to get far, because the food business and industry is such a competitive industry, and providing consultancy also in that career, was not easy for Engy Radwan, founder of Everything Restaurant, which is a restaurant consultancy and management services company.
Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview with Radwan, to know more about her businesses, how she entered this career, what were the obstacles that she faced during her career as she has more than 16 years of experience working with some of the renowned brands in Egypt in the field of Food and Beverages and Restaurants, creating, managing and developing restaurant and cafés concepts. The transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
In depth, tell us when did your journey with restaurant business career started?
I graduated from Mass Communication specialising in the Marketing Department from the American University in Cairo. After graduation I worked at Trianon Bakeries as an assistant marketing manager. I had never envisioned myself working in the restaurant business, but when I joined it, I enjoyed the work immensely. When the company acquired the franchise for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, I was assigned head of the team traveling to Malaysia for training, at the head office in Kuala Lumpur. Part of the extensive training that I received there, was working as a barista for five weeks at the company outlets in Kuala Lumpur. This was a turning point in my life, as I found out that I love that career and want to continue working in it. Then I took a decision in 2015 to start my own company, Everything Restaurant, which is a restaurant consultancy and management services company. Then I also opened two restaurants, Nouga, which is a summer season restaurant in the North Coast, and Wawshee, which was a fast food “Hawawshee” (Egyptian stuffed bread with minced meat) cart in Cairo Festival City Mall.
What type of services do you offer through this company?
Through my company, I offer my expertise to new and established restaurants and cafés in Egypt, in which I help them from scratch in the project. I suggest for investors the location of the restaurant, then we come up with a concept development, and proposals for what they could sell. Then, according to the concepts that we chose, we engineer the menu. In order to ensure the quality of the food or the item that will be sold, we make a focus group with a target audience to get from them their feedback; and in parallel with that we finish the interior design and furniture in the place, in addition to introducing or registering the point of sale (POS) system. Following this, comes the time for the suppliers, according to the items that will be sold, and we make comparisons between different suppliers to choose the best price and the highest quality. Then we provide training and hiring for the staff, and training includes menu knowledge, customer service, etc. Then we develop the marketing plan for the project’s opening. On the other hand, we may offer services to an established restaurant that has a project problem, and we focus on that problem and solve it, whether it is a problem of management, inappropriate staff, marketing, etc.
Was shifting careers from marketing to restaurant business difficult? Who supported you in that decision?
Notably, being an assistant marketing manager in the Trianon Bakery was part of my career, hence at first there was no problem, my mother supported me, she did not see it as degrading. Then after marrying I decided to open my own company, my husband too supported me a lot and helped me.
What kind of obstacles you faced due to being a woman in that career?
In the early days of my career I faced some gender stereotypical problems, the people at work were always stating that this profession is not one for females, but I proved to them that I am independent, and that I can deal with any situation at work either with laborers or with customers.
Ultimately, I learned a lot from the different situations that I witnessed in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, as my boss believed in my abilities, hence I learned a lot from the trial and errors in different situations. In brief, my experience in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf taught me a lot about dealing with day to day issues, handling staff and managing an entire restaurant operation.
Today’s challenges would be joggling between work, my family and my social life. I have two lovely girls and i need to set an example for them and make them proud of what i do. So time management gets really challenging
From where did idea of opening your own private restaurant originate?
I opened many restaurants for others, consulted for many existing clients, but at a point I thought that it was time to open my own place. In addition, my colleagues and husband urged me to start my own restaurant, encouraged me to take this very crucial step in my career. I never regretted it for a second. I started with Nouga, my first restaurant, in the North Coast, which was a breakfast diner offer oriental and American breakfast, in addition to offering crepes and pizzas.
I found that dealing with the business is different completely than being a consultant. My experience there was an interesting and a challenging one, but on the other hand, the project itself maybe has not been financially rewarding, but I did not regret that as I gained a lot of experience that actually helped me with my next project, which was Wawshee.
You chose special, original names for your projects, why did you choose them?
Everything restaurants came from the idea that I wanted a name to express what we do straightforwardly. The name is self-explanatory and easy to spot. It also had my same initials ER Nouja’s in my favourite nickname and I wanted this concept to feel a bit personal. Wawshee was an impulse choice by my very creative husband. It has a fun sound to it and close to what this concept is mainly about which is hawawshy, the traditional Egyptian dish. We also sell “sogoa” (Egyptian oriental sausages), “kebda” (liver), and seafood sandwiches with a bit of a twist.
Every project is unique. I like the rush of starting something from scratch and seeing it materialise in the market. The process itself with all its procedures starting from finding the location, developing the menu, ending by building relations and opening the project, inspires me as I see how this business that I started from scratch, will perform and compete in the market.
Could you please provide us with most important tips for running successful restaurant?
Commitment is the most important tip that I can provide. One of the owners must dedicate their time for managing the project, in order to manage the staff, solve problems immediately, etc. In addition to selecting the right location, invest in the right calibre of staff, keep customers engaged, and maintain good rapport with suppliers.
As you are working in food industry since years ago, in your opinion what was effect of pound flotation on this industry?
The floating of the pound has affected this industry immensely. Prices of most ingredients have soared up high yet, business owners are obliged to maintain a certain price level to keep the business running. Customers should not expect prices every time the visit the same restaurant or cafe. Inevitably, between suppliers who have to increase prices and customers who expect stable and justified prices, business owners are stuck in the middle and the only way around it, in my opinion, is usually reducing their profit margin to guarantee traffic. Accordingly, cost-to-profit ratio gets highly affected. Another factor would be the increased minimum wages. After the revolution, minimum wages have finally increased offering decent salaries to most employees in different sectors. The food and beverages industry witnessed a great change in the wages of its work force, which again added to the business operational cost. Unfortunately, the profit margin businesses used to achieve a few years ago is somehow challenging these days.
In general, what about challenges faced this industry?
Fluctuating prices of raw materials, lack of imported goods, unstable labour are the daily challenges business face.
What are your aspirations?
I hope to see for this industry an authority or department that links and connects all restaurants together, to provide services to owners and to monitor dealings with customers, notably there is monitoring from the health minister on the restaurants, but its role focuses on the quality of the food provided.