Delicious food cooked with love and passion by mothers is always a fond memory for grown-ups. There have been ongoing discussions that whether or not the love and passion involved in preparing food items adds a special taste.
Nonetheless, there are people who believe that food prepared with passion and love does make an impression on the eaters. To support their argument, they refer to the food cooked by mothers saying the food always makes children happy and healthy. This is the culinary philosophy of Sebouh Berejiklian, originally from Armenia, and his family who have been running one of the oldest restaurants in Qatar.
“Whatever you eat, it translates through your age. We have customers who are 80 and they have been coming to us since they were young. We offer home-like experience when it comes to the menu,” said Sebouh, who runs Popeye Restaurant in Umm Salal Mohammed. The restaurant was established in 1968 by his father and since then it has become a family business.
The restaurant owner along with one of his aunts, who is a chef, sat with Community and shared how they have been able to sustain it for so long and what plans they have for the future.
“My mother, who is 92, came to Qatar in 1952 as a nurse and retired from Hamad Hospital as head nurse after working with different hospitals in the country. My father opened the restaurant in 1968 — that is before my birth. Popeye is primarily recognised with a famous cartoon character Popeye. I am really not sure that we are the oldest restaurant but what I am sure about is that it was the first restaurant to serve broasted chicken.”
Talking about the secret of their sustainability for over half a century, Sebouh underlined the significance of serving food of good quality cooked with love and passion. “Quality is one of the things that we have been maintaining. Customers’ loyalty is another thing. Every time you eat from this restaurant, you feel comfortable in your stomach. We do not use chemicals and preservatives. Everything we do fresh on order. We do not cook and freeze. We buy our ingredients keeping in mind the health of the customers and the price of the items.
“There is another factor that has kept us going. We are the only family-owned restaurant business in Doha where we cook and eat ourselves. We do not cook at home. We know exactly what is in the food. Kitchen hygiene is our utmost priority. We have only the supporting staff.”
For the restaurant owner, honesty in food they sell is instructive. “The honesty with which you serve food makes your profit last longer. We do not charge much but we continue to move on. We are like a pretty woman but with no make-up. We offer original food with original recipes.”
The family-run restaurant follows its own recipes. “We have developed our own recipes. We have brought in different recipes from different countries only to develop our own unique methods.”
Sebouh believes the restaurant business is an activity that demands plentiful from the owners or managers. “You can never relax. You do not have days off or weekends. Minimum working hours for us are 16 hours every day. I have seen many people collapse in the business. I think too many people cannot survive in the industry. If they do last, they have to hire people to do the job for them. When you don’t hire competent persons, the quality can go down.”
The family has been working to open new outlets next year. “We are planning to open at six new locations in Qatar. The demand from the customers is very high. We have done no advertising for the last 50 years. At the same time, I do not want a customer to driver from Mesaieed or other areas to come to our restaurant for dinner or lunch.”
When asked what piece of advice he would like to share with aspiring people who want to come into the food industry, he said: “When I finished my university degree in business management, I was offered two jobs in the US; one offering high wages and other, comparatively lower. I opted for the job with lower wages. I washed dishes and mopped floors. I started from the kitchen and I would advise young people also to start from kitchen. If you want to succeed in the restaurant business, start from the kitchen. The highest rate of business failures has been in restaurants. The main reason is that most of the entrepreneurs do not know the kitchen well.”
Sebouh, the longtime restaurant manager, has also witnessed what he calls wonderful infrastructural development of Qatar. “With every passing year, Qatar seems to accumulate a growth of 10 years. For me, the development has been mindboggling. Sometimes, I drive in certain areas and I cannot believe what I see. I use GPRS to find my way to home even though I was raised here.
“Qatar is the most suitable country to do business in. At the same time, it is one of the safest countries in the world. I urge people to invest here and the time is now.”
Anna Gazariam, maternal aunt of Sebouh, is the head chef at the restaurant. When asked what makes her a successful chef, she said: “I was a very good cook at home. I know how to cook the original way. I cook with the same spirit I used to cook for my children. I cook as if I am cooking for my family.
“I would like to transfer my culinary skills to my children. I tell them that honesty and passion are very important ingredients for a successful recipe. Food is not just food. When you cook it, you put your energy in it. If you cook from your heart, it will produce a special taste.
“Most of the customers tell me that the taste of my food is exceptional. It is true that we are a small restaurant but we have big a heart.”
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