AlumniWord of Mouth: Where to find the Best Oriental Corner in Brazil

How a Jordanian alumnus cooked, hosted and charmed his way to success in a far off land.

Hazem Khoury graduated in 2003 from César Ritz Colleges. Originally from Jordan, he came to Switzerland with the backing of his father to follow his dreams in hospitality. Following the International Recruitment Forum, he was presented the opportunity to undergo a Management Training Program in Florida, United States. It was here he met his future wife and his life turned upside down with the decision to relocate to her home country Brazil.

New culture, unknown language and different hemisphere, what was your experience upon first arriving in Brazil?
It was definitely not easy! I had a lot of professional experience but without speaking the local language it was very difficult to work in the hospitality industry. The culture was completely different from my own and what I had experienced in Switzerland and the United States and I knew that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to gain a better understanding of the culture (and language).

What inspired you to open a Middle Eastern Restaurant?
I’ve always loved to cook and while I was looking for work I began doing some part time catering work for friends and contacts. Middle Eastern cuisine remains fairly unknown in this region of Brazil and so I thought this untapped market had potential – and besides, cooking and hosting is in my blood!

How was the restaurant received by the locals in the beginning?
I started out with only two tables in a small location. I quickly learned that Brazilian people liked their habits and it was very difficult to introduce something so different and new. I had to give away free food in the beginning just to convince people to try it! It was not an easy start.

What helped your business take off?
Our restaurant was featured on the front page of a local newspaper, and practically overnight business started booming! It was a story about how my wife and I met, why we wanted to open a restaurant and featured a nice photo of us. The locals came to the restaurant, not simply to taste the food but to meet us as well. They wanted to learn about Middle Eastern culture, taste the food and even learn some of the language.

 

“Very quickly our customers became like a family – it is thanks to their loyalty that we got through the financial crisis.”

 

What is the main way new clients hear about your restaurant?
It is definitely word of mouth. The population in this region rely on each other for recommendations much more so than through traditional marketing. The customers that come through our doors write about their experiences online and they share their opinions and sentiments with their heart. Not only do they talk about how the food tasted but they talk about me and my family too.

Your restaurant has landed in the #1 spot on TripAdvisor! Congratulations! How has this changed your business?
This has been absolutely huge for us!

 

“It is such a wonderful feeling that has brought tears to my eyes when a new customer travels to our restaurant from far away and asks after me by name.”

 

How have you changed after 7 years living in Brazil?
Living in Brazil has changed me a lot. I have learned from the Brazilian people how the simple things in life matter. I have learned to be more easygoing, not to complain and worry about having nice things to show off. And most importantly I have learned what it means to have an entire community come and support you as a member of their own family.

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