The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Kubra Ozdemir, Elvira Samurri, Edisera Hidri
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world. This interview was done in collaboration with Epoka University.
In this interview, we meet Fatmir Zhguni, the general manager of Capitol Restaurant in Tirana, Albania. He shared how his business faced the pandemic. He started a delivery system to keep up with this situation. This strategy has been working for them. He mentioned that they were expecting support from the government such as rent payment discount, salary payment discount to help them through the tough times.
Can you tell us about your business?
Fatmir: As it is known “Capitol” was founded in May 2017. So I have been working there since the first day as their manager. Now is the fourth year of our business. We are working to give the best to our consumers. For those who consume halal food. Our staff contains 23 people. In addition to this, we have also offered delivery services. We have two mopeds for delivery. So we are offering delivery services with two motorists.
Where is your restaurant located in Tirana?
Fatmir: It is located in the centre of Tirana. At the beginning of “Rruga Kavajes’’. Near to the Central Bank.
I want to ask you some questions related to the pandemic situation. It is known that it was a hard time for the world and for the world economy. Also, it was a difficult time for small businesses. How was this situation for you? What kind of strategy did you use?
Fatmir: So in this country, the lockdown started on 12 March. Businesses were closed on quarantine. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, all kinds of businesses were closed. This lockdown continued for two and a half months, till May 18. So obviously during this period, we could not offer any services to our consumers, outside or inside the restaurant. Our restaurant was closed for two months.
It was closed for our staff and managers as well, that time was very tough for us. It was difficult because of the high rent. Also the salaries of our staff. In those difficult times, we did not lay off any of our staff. In addition, we kept paying their salaries. Unfortunately, the rent was the same. And the expenditures of our business were the same as in other months.
When the lockdown finished our customers were still afraid. As they were worried about COVID-19. We did not start immediately with full capacity. The business did not recover even for a month. In addition, we offered a limited service. We offered service only outside the restaurant. And the available hours were limited because of police hours. Therefore we were affected badly by this situation.
Now we have not yet recovered but still, we are not in bad conditions. As I said before the situation was difficult. Especially for small businesses in Albania. In that situation, some businesses got closed because of the economic situation. We could not get any support from our government. Therefore the situation did not change for small businesses.
The lockdown period had included Ramadan month, and as it is known you are one of the best halal restaurants in Albania. How was this period for you?
Fatmir: So this Ramadan was not like the other Ramadan. It was difficult for us to offer a service. We could do it only outside the restaurant. This meant a limited number of customers. In this situation, we started the delivery services. We tried to do our best. But we could not achieve what we expected.
But did any of your strategy work? For example, your delivery services, did it work?
Fatmir: Yes, of course! Actually, our customers know us. And we did so many advertisements through social media, also we kept under the responsibility of our delivery services, for being appreciated by our customers. And our customers remained satisfied with us. If our strategy did not work, we could not do anything to fix it, because everything was limited.
As I understand you gave service only outside the restaurant.
Fatmir: Yes only outside and delivery to home.
Although you managed it well according to the situation.
Fatmir: Not very good but not very bad either, average. I can say that we handled it well. At least we do not have many losses and it is enough for us.
What about the competition at that time? What was their strategy and did it work? What do u think?
Fatmir: As we all know in Albania we are offering halal food to our customers. And because of this, we are facing difficulties. We are not offering alcohol. We are not offering pork. We are offering the best quality halal meat to our customers, with the best sanitary conditions. To sum up, if you do that your expenditures will increase. But that is not important for us. What is important for us is to give the best to our customers. We want to do our best with halal food and a clean place.
It has been six months since the lockdown finished, now you are offering service to your customers, do you think that this situation has finished? Do you have any idea?
Fatmir: There were different things especially in December. We supposed that things would be better. But there were some limited options because of COVID-19 as all the world knows. In Albania, there was a police hour which kept affecting our business. Actually, people want to go out but they could not because of limited time. As I said to you before we are trying to deliver at our customer place. But we cannot keep the rhythm sometimes. Hence I do not think the effect of the pandemic situation has not finished yet. We are trying to recover the loss of our business. And we are trying to return to the past days of “Capitol”. Hopefully, we will reach it as soon as possible.
I hope all the small businesses will be able to handle the situation. What about your future plan? Can you give any information about the “Capitol” future plan?
Fatmir: Our strategy for the future was around 2021. It was about opening two or three branches of the “Capitol”. But because of the pandemic situation, we decided to stop this plan. I hope when the business starts to make profits, we will continue with our plan. If the conditions become better, we will continue with our plan of opening other restaurants. I hope we will increase our service with a new branch at least.
What are the three things that you need help with right now?
Fatmir: We are expecting support from the government, unfortunately, the economic potential of our country is limited. We are hoping to get, for example, a discount on taxes. That would be very good support. Or maybe a KDV discount. This would also be great. Maybe the government could help by paying our staff.
About the Guest
Capitol restaurant which offers halal food since 2017. It is located in the centre of Tirana, Albania.