Boy: its been a roller coaster of an year! We have learnt like crazy, had amazing highs and many different lows and challenges. Do we regret having brought the concept to Sri Lanka? Not one bit. We have served thousands upon thousands of shawarma in an island that didn't know what quality Shawarma was all about. We managed to convince a bunch of Arab guys to come to the 'as yet untapped market of Sri Lanka' to serve authentic Arabic food. The response has been wonderful, all those smiles, positive comments and excitement has indeed been phenomenal. For the first year, we wanted to test the concept and ensure people really liked and accepted it. We consciously wanted keep the business small and focus on delivering great food. To a large extent we believe that has been achieved. We have also managed to keep prices reasonable, despite everything sky-rocketing all around and many very expensive and imported ingredients.
We want to tap into the middle class of the nation, not become yet another product and concept that targets high end consumers and the elite. Verily, its the Middle Class that churns a nation and AK will aim to be a quality product that doesn't burn too big a hole in your pocket. We continue to innovate and reasonably reduce costs so that we ensure more and more customers can appreciate our product and food. We managed to land a fantastic location, but being alongside the sea comes with its own challenges. Maintenance, rust, lots of rain, extreme wind and a general lack of good reliable handymen and maintenance people means it is a real struggle to keep all the machines, electrical equipment, computers etc running in ship shape all the time. Despite all of that, we still manage to be open most of the days - thank God for that. We also learnt that in the sub-continent, you have to be ready for any surprise at any day - it might be a small outlet (now) but we've been through quite a bit in this 1 year. Not everyone plays with a straight bat to use some cricketing terminology. And oh yes, when they see a concept works there is no shortage of copy cats and would be saboteurs.
By now, the Syriana is a pretty common name in Colombo and the large majority absolutely love it. We are thankful to the drones of wonderful customers that come through, appreciate the product and then also give us positive feedback. It sure does make our existence more meaningful. We are also thankful to all our family members, brothers, dads, moms, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends and well wishers that have all pitched in, worked their backs off and helped us overcome many a challenge and obstacle. As you will probably know, the actual owners of AK are not yet based in Colombo, so essentially AK is a part - time remotely run business. We use a lot of Skype, video monitoring, conference calls and about 12 trips a year to run AK. Of course we have a decent management team and family who support us, but we are aware that if we really need to grow this business into something special, we have to live and breathe every single detail of the business. Sadly, we arent able to do that yet and we have to improve, in terms of attention to detail, delivering top notch service and maintaining consistency and quality in our product.
Being distinctly middle-class ourselves, we are still not able to make that big jump from our existing 'high flying' corporate jobs into the amazing and messy world of running a Shawarma shop in a paradise island. Working on it though! Over the first year we are also proud of garnering significant traction on social media; with a lot of our customers interacting, appreciating and sometimes fooling around with us, even trying to help rent camels in Colombo for our marketing promo. Our twitter account definitely humanizes AK and we are super responsive to any comments and requests on Social media, something a lot businesses in town tend to side-step. We even take occasional delivery orders from friends and top customers on twitter, all part of going out of the way and building that special emotional connection.
One other huge challenge we have faced is getting the laid-back chilled out 'come or go chicago' Lankan boys in our team to work with some of the fiery, temperamental, 'bit different' Arab chefs and staff. It is indeed a big mix of attitudes, mindsets, work-cultures and ethos; not to forget the language and communication issues. It's a super big challenge and one that we continue to try and find new solutions to. Hopefully we will crack this nut as well. We also note that we haven't been perfect, there might have been a few off days for the food quality, our little dining area and interiors might not be the most cushy place in the city or your order for delivery might have turned up late. We do indeed apologize if you had to face anything of the sort. We are comitted to continuous improvement. Indeed running a business is challenging, you have to be on your toes 24/7 and running it remotely is 10 times more challenging.
On a final note: what could you expect from AK in year 2. We are looking at various options including, we have been approached by many an excited SL entrepreneur who would like to franchise or open new branches; we are carefully evaluating all our options. Rest assured we have to look at growth, with exceedingly high costs and very reasonable selling prices, we have to expand in size and locations if we are to become a decent, sustainable business. With good planning, focus on all round quality and some healthy innovation, The sky is the limit! Find out more about AK @ www.arabianknights.lk Naqqash Jaleel