Executive profiled a collection of beloved Beirut venues which have been in operation for more than 35 years and evoke strong feelings of nostalgia among the city’s residents. The aim was to discover more about their history and learn the secrets of their success, nostalgia aside.
Opened in 1935, Falafel Sahyoun started selling falafel from a cart on the street corner next to their current shop on Bshara El Khoury Street. They moved to that venue once the building was built and the family bought an empty spot on the ground floor, two years later.
Falafel Sahyoun remained in operation throughout the civil war despite having to temporarily relocate to the Zarif neighborhood and then Corniche El Nahr when their venue’s location on the demarcation lines forced them to do so.
“We had to keep the place open to keep the name alive in people’s minds. Had we closed down during the war, people would have forgotten about us,” says Fouad Sahyoun, one of the current owners, recalling that the area around their current venue was reduced to a dirt road during the war and how, for a few years after it, hardly any customers would pass by their shop.
Fouad Sahyoun inherited the business from his father along with his brother but opened his own venue in 2006, also called Falafel Sahyoun — and with the same logo, layout and falafel recipe — right next to the original venue. “I chose to go my separate way for my peace of mind and also to keep my father’s name alive,” he says. Sahyoun says he learned about the business when he was a child helping his father out during weekends and jokes that many say his mother gave birth to him in the shop.
These days, he is at the shop from six in the morning until closing time, just like his father before him, stating this as the main reason behind their venue’s longevity. “If you want to maintain your name and stay sustainable, you have to work hard. [Hospitality] is a very demanding industry which you cannot turn your back to. Handling food items demands cleanliness,” says Sahyoun.
For this reason, Sahyoun rejects the idea of expanding into new outlets saying that his personal presence is vital to the success of his business and by expanding, he would lose that. “Today there is no work ethic or diligence among employees and I need to supervise everything from the way my employee talks to the customer to how clean he is,” says Sahyoun.
Regarding the competition from other venues, Sahyoun says he has a loyal and steady client base who “sometimes try falafel elsewhere but they return and tell me my falafel is better.” Sahyoun is not impressed with the more modern interpretations of falafel toppings and says he will continue with the traditional way he’s always prepared his.