Lockdown Economy Spain in a Lebanese Restaurant with Cindy and Pamela

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Daniele Busato

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.

In this interview hosted by Maisaa Sarkis, we meet Pamela and Cindy, Lebanese entrepreneurs and the co-founders of Bērytī Bistro in Barcelona. They share their story of the lockdown for a Lebanese bistro that offers a sneak peek of Beirut, delicious homemade Lebanese food, and monthly art installations. The owners of Bērytī like many restaurants were faced with the industry’s greatest challenge to date Covid-19, however, they were determined to do things differently that could capture value in the post-COVID-19 future. In March 2020, once the quarantine and physical distancing started, Pamela and Cindy were forced to cease operation for a while, they took a pause to reflect, disconnect and see how the things would be developing. Within a few weeks, they had a plan tailored to their client’s preferences and new dining need that would equip them to adapt and refine their restaurant model for the “next normal. Here the owners of Bērytī Bistro had to focus on what works, update the operating module, enhancing delivering capabilities to recover in the new normal and keep their clients engaged and positive in challenging times. Want to know more about the Lebanese brunch formula and be part of the “Sobhieh” concept watch our Interview.

Watch the video-version of the interview

What is Beryti’s business idea and where are you from?

Cindy: I used to be a digital creative director and Pamela used to be a casting director. One day we decided to leave everything, come to Barcelona and open a Lebanese restaurant. It’s the craziest adventure ever! But it’s really been an amazing ride and now we are based in Barcelona in which we’ve created this beautiful Bistro called Beryti (the word comes from Latin, “Berit”, which is the traditional name for Beirut, and we thought of adding a personal touch to it: most words in Lebanese that end in “i” mean “mine”, so the restaurant’s name means “my Beirut”).

How was your experience when you first moved to Barcelona?

Pamela: It wasn’t that easy, but it was so beautiful in its entirety to come here, not speaking the language or knowing anybody here. Searching for a place to open our restaurant was the biggest challenge.

Cindy: You have to keep in mind that neither of us comes from this industry. But, in a very humble way, when you’re born and raised Lebanese you have a set of skills to make it happen wherever you go. So we actually managed to set up our bistro in a small period of time, with all the challenges we were faced with.

How did the lockdown affect Beryti and what did you do?

Cindy: Going from being an employee with a 9-to-6 job to being an entrepreneur and working 26 hours per day (if that’s even possible!) with huge uncertainty (with or without a pandemic, being an entrepreneur will always mean dealing with a great deal of uncertainty) was complicated enough in its own right, but now, add a pandemic to the mix…Entrepreneurs usually have very little time to relax, but the lock-down gave us a chance to sit down, rest for a few weeks and have some space — mentally and psychologically — to think of what to do next. Ever since we set foot in Barcelona, up until we closed in March, it was an ongoing struggle to bring Beryti to life.

So the first few weeks we just decided to rest and disconnect (rather, we were forced to); then — I mentioned earlier the set of skills that you have as a Lebanese, giving the ongoing uncertainty in that country — we were back to work and created some new projects and services that were a result of the pandemic: first of all, we created the Lebanese brunch on Saturday, because many people go to parks during the week-end and our bistro happens to be near one, so why not offer them some food to bring there? The second thing we created was a take-away service — we actually wanted to create a takeaway service since day one, but we never had time to go pick up the packaging and do other things necessary for it…so the pandemic gave us the time to put this service in place. Lastly, we created a new menu.

So if you think about it, you could say that we are one of the few cases in which the positive opportunities of the pandemic outgrew the negatives: on the business side, we were definitely hit, but at the same time we were forced to do things differently and this has been amazing for us.

In terms of customer habits and preferences, did you notice any differences?

Pamela: Dining in is very different from take-away, and here at Beryti we even have a sort of friendly relationship with our clients: we often text via Whatsapp and they tell us through text what they would like us to prepare for them in advance.

Cindy: This is what Beryti is all about. We used to have a special service for our neighbours even before we started our takeaway and delivery service: they would come in, bring in their own Tupperware and just see what we had and order something. They would then return the favour with some cake or flowers. We have a very personal relationship with our customers, Beryti in fact is more of a home than a restaurant and so having customers is like having people over.

Following the pandemic, our customers were really nice with us, they understood the obstacles that we were going to have to face and tried to help us by ordering specific dishes via Whatsapp in advance since our menu was inevitably going to be restricted. Our relationship with our customers actually got stronger in the last few months.

How did business go once July came along when restrictions were partially lifted?

Cindy: For those who don’t know, there is a Lebanese term that comes from “Sabbath”, “mourning”, which is a ritual that you have in the morning: you come over, sit over a cup of coffee with neighbours and family members to talk about life and things in general. Pamela and I would host this ritual in our bistro, but before having people over we would have it on our own on our terrace (which, for Beryti, is the sidewalk): people would pass by, see us having breakfast outside and stop and chat…so that’s how we decided to start proposing this ritual to customers as well. This is one of the many ways in which Beryti introduces Lebanese culture to the rest of the world, and this is pretty much what our restaurant is about, more so than only about the food.

How do you plan to react in case of a new lockdown?

Cindy: It’s survival-mode now for the F&B industry. We have so many plans and projects that are still pending, but for now, we are just waiting for this whole thing to be over. For the time being, the smartest thing to do is to be more involved than ever with the customers (because it is they who grant sustainability to your business in the end). We are focusing mostly on that now and limiting as much as possible any new form of cost or investment so that we can ride this wave as smoothly as possible. In the meantime, fingers crossed!

Are there any top priorities at the moment?

Pamela: For now we are going back to take-aways and there’s also another project we’ve been meaning to work on since the opening of our bistro.

Cindy: We will also enforce the “menu del dìa” for take-away and for delivery. It’s tough for everybody right now, and what we try to do is to support as many small businesses as we can in our neighbourhood — and they are doing the same — so we feel like we’re not alone in this. This gives the motivation to reach out to members of the community for help and support, so we’re not worried about the future.

Would you like to share anything with our readers to wrap-up this interview?

Cindy: I would like to say one thing: being an entrepreneur, you always have to remember why you’re in it in the first place. Sometimes, with the hurdles and challenges of life, we forget why we are doing what we are doing; it is important to stop and remember that we’re doing it because we love it. This will give enough energy to move forward and to help those around us too. If you are standing up on your feet, I believe that it is essential that you assist those in need to move on with you.

About the Guests

Cindy, former award-winning digital director, and Pamela, former casting director, left everything and jumped ship with a one-way ticket to Barcelona for a dream: create a pit stop, a layover to tell the story of Lebanon, its traditions, culture, and heritage. Today, a year later, Bērytī is amongst the best Lebanese restaurants in Barcelona.

https://www.instagram.com/berytibistro/ https://www.timeout.es/barcelona/es/restaurantes/beryti-1 https://www.barcelonafoodexperience.com/blog/beryti-bistro https://www.arabadonline.com/en/details/art-and-design/b-ryt-beirut-in-barcelona

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.