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.
The first documented picture of Cafe Rawda is from 1935, though some say it had existed even before that. With a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea, Cafe Rawda is said to be the preferred venue of inspiration for writers and poets, listing the likes of Nizar Qabbani and Rafic Ali Ahmad.
Mohamed Chatila, the current owner of the venue, says it has been in the family for generations. “The fact that it has remained within our family is what has kept us going for so long. This continuity, with the older generation handing over their experience to the younger but still somehow retaining management control at the beginning ensures a link between the past and present which maintains quality. It is working well for us so far,” says Chatila.
Chatila, who has a business management degree, took over the business eight years ago and says that, like in any business, he faced some obstacles. For him, they included the economic situation of the country and real estate issues related to their land — a mix of private and public property — and long standing rent agreements with the government rendering any renovation plans extremely difficult.
Renovations may not be needed as consumers like Cafe Rawda for its simple and relaxed atmosphere. “Our clients feel comfortable coming here in their sportswear after running on the Corniche. I am not saying they do not go to the trendier venues in the area but they have to behave completely different when they go there,” says Chatila.
In a somewhat controversial move, Cafe Rawda stopped serving alcohol in 2008. Chatila feels it was the right move for his establishment’s image as, according to him, the number of conservative Beirutis is increasing and those people were avoiding Cafe Rawda because of the alcohol. “This is a family place and this move was very successful among those conservative families which come to our cafe,” says Chatila.
“I am happy we have been able to sustain our business for so long but I am sad that some big names which did not deserve to close down have been forced to do so due to the situation in the country,” concludes Chatila.