Entrepreneur, Roland Semaan believes healthy, tasty food should be accessible and affordable
In 2010, Roland opened his first restaurant Balade, bringing a taste of his native Lebanon to New York’s vibrant dining scene. In 2015, he expanded his culinary ventures with an innovative fast-casual restaurant called Balade Your Way offering healthy, fresh and delicious Lebanese food that is quick and customisable.
What inspired you to open your own restaurant at the age of 29, in New York City’s highly competitive dining scene?
As a young boy, I dreamed of owning my own restaurant or hotel. New York City is a melting pot of cultures, yet I felt it was missing authentic Lebanese cuisine. So in 2010 I decided to bring a taste of my native Lebanon to the city and opened Balade, a Lebanese restaurant in New York City's iconic East Village and for the last eight years we’ve been bringing Lebanese flavours to the neighborhood.
I’ve always enjoyed connecting and meeting new people and realised very early on that good food puts people in a good mood
You also have another venture called Balade Your Way. Tell us more about it.
I guess you could say the entrepreneurial bug bit me, so in 2015 I decided to bring healthy Middle Eastern food to Americans. Balade Your Way was borne out of my belief that we don’t have to compromise our taste buds by eating healthy and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It is essentially a fast-casual restaurant that focuses on healthy, fresh and delicious Lebanese food that is customisable and quick to prepare.
Our ingredients are sourced locally and handpicked daily . Our beef and lamb is grass fed and we only serve free range chicken. We bring you the authentic flavors of the Middle East, with a modern twist!
What’s something few people realise about opening a restaurant?
I think the media landscape today, often glorifies F&B industry with its portrayal of celebrity chefs. It may seem glamorous and fun, but it boils down to hard work – lots of it! It’s more than just about cooking and serving delicious food. You also need to be good at bookkeeping, manage staffing issues and familiarise yourself with things like licensing, health codes and tax laws.
Having said that, there’s no greater feeling than being able to walk in your space and seeing what you’ve accomplished. If you are passionate about making people feel happy when they eat your food, your daily work-life becomes that much more rewarding.
What was the most difficult lesson you learned on the job in the restaurant business?
Don’t make quick abrupt decisions. Take your time to understand a situation before reacting to it.
How has what you learned in school shaped you as an entrepreneur today?
César Ritz Colleges basically prepared me for the real world. I not only gained a proper, quality education in the academic sense, but learning things like housekeeping, restaurant service and dish washing, taught me a lot about discipline and always giving my best even for the smallest of task.
Any words of wisdom for budding young entrepreneurs?
Embrace the journey and take everything you learn in school seriously. Once you embark on your career, you can’t turn back time to think about what you missed out on in school.
Roland Semaan graduated from César Ritz Colleges in 1998 with a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management:
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