"Relentless, driven and focused.” That’s not just how Knafeh Bakery founder Ameer El-issa describes entrepreneurship in general, but they are also characteristics evident in his journey of building the mobile restaurant serving a namesake Middle East dessert- knafeh, a creamy sweet treat topped with pistachios and sugar syrup.
Palestinian siblings Ameer and Joey El-issa, popularly known as “The Bearded Bakers” in Australian food circles, decided to launch Knafeh Bakery in October 2014 in Sydney. The decision was a result of being overwhelmed by the demand for the special knafeh served at their family restaurant- a creation of their mother’s unique recipe. With a background in architecture and hospitality, Ameer considers the shipping container-turned-bakery (decorated with street art) an amalgamation of both disciplines, resulting in a one-of-a-kind visual dining experience. “We purposely looked for a shipping container where the entire front could be open to put the whole process, from order-taking, preparation, baking, and right through to final delivery on show.” The team credits the design to inspiration drawn from a variety of places– street bakeries of Jerusalem, street food scenes from Brooklyn, New York, and even architectural facets of Berlin. Adding to the quirkiness is the roof of the “bakery,” which serves as a stage that often features musicians.
Having made a name for their authentic knafeh in Sydney and more recently Melbourne, Knafeh Bakery has set in motion the process of making New York and Beirut their next stops, and is also keen on the UAE and London markets. The self-funded eatery has earned all their recognition through word-of-mouth and social media, while on the business front, an “aggressive reinvestment strategy” is used that involves pooling income back into the business to support growth. However, the F&B venture is quick to admit facing its own share of challenges in its novice days. Be it stock management issues or struggles in meeting sudden spikes of demand, Ameer says he has inculcated a major learning from those phases: “Preparation and processes gave us scalability and were the difference between a good night or a bad night.”
Ameer El-Issa, co-founder, Knafeh Bakery
What do you think about the boom of food trucks in UAE?
Diners are now on the lookout for new experiences. Going out to restaurants is no longer an occasional treat and restaurants are numerous, so food trucks provide a point of difference. It provides a non-pretentious, family friendly activity that caters for everyone, and people find comfort in going back to basics. For these reasons, food trucks are a much welcomed, and in turn, increasingly popular, option for all people to enjoy.
How do you ensure that your company runs efficiently ?
Having defined systems and procedures, and ensuring everyone knows their role and sticks to their station. Whilst the team make it look like it is all singing, dancing and fun, there are very defined processes in place that are essential to allowing us to deliver the large number of orders we take in each service.
What are your three tips for an entrepreneur to start a business ?
Firstly, follow your heart. Your belief and passion in your business are what will drive its success. Without the belief and passion, it just becomes a job. Second, experience breeds expertise. A strong foundation and understanding of the industry that you are entering will separate the “hobby” businesses from the serious players who make a name for themselves. It’s important to know your market, your approach, your message (or brand positioning) in order to succeed, and experience is what will help you define these. Finally, put it on paper. By writing things down, you solidify them for yourself, and your team when the time comes to employ staff. Write a business plan. A marketing strategy. Your systems, processes and procedures. And include contingency plans, and risk management as well. Too often we plan for the good, but planning on how to mitigate the bad can mean the difference between failure and weathering the storm– whether it be bad business reviews or bad financial decisions.