If you pull up to their humble stand on a given day, One’s Lebanese Pastry shop won’t offer you a chair; it’s take away and delivery only. Surrounded by furniture stores on one of Amman’s central arteries, it’s an unlikely location for a restaurant. Manager Rafat Khatib will invariably greet you with a beaming smile, asking exactly what you want- he’s not about to serve something a millimeter off of your request. But once you’ve had their piping hot zaatar manaeesh- you’ll understand how One’s does as much business as it does.
It’s attention to detail that keeps One’s serving an untold number of Amman’s businessmen during lunch hour- and at least one Wamda journalist. It may look just like any other local pastry shop, but upon closer inspection, One’s are a step ahead of local competitors in a few dimensions. Their chicken is the highest quality white meat. Their menu boasts a “healthy” corner full of veggie platters- an anomaly in their arena. Their willingness to customize, along with recession-friendly prices, makes it one of Amman’s best-kept secrets.
It’s clear that the founder, Rafat, knows a thing or two about service and building steady success under the radar. After waiting until sales at his first location were solid, he’s now expanding to a location by Jordan University- right in the lion’s den of hungry students.
We sat down with Rafat to ask him about his process building One’s.
1) How did you decide to start your company?
In 2008, I lost my job at a construction company that went bankrupt, and this made me decide on a career change. I really wanted to make a living out of something I both loved and knew well. Since my BA degree was in Hotel Management, I came up with the idea to open a fast food chain which delivers fresh, quality food at a reasonable market price.
2) What were the most important decisions that you made in your company, or what was a key turning point in your approach?
Firstly, that I always use ingredients of superb quality, from five star hotel food suppliers. Secondly, I decided not to expand into other branches, although many opportunities came my way, because I wanted to focus on quality of product over quantity of stores.
3) What is the biggest problem that you faced (or are facing) in your company, or what were the biggest mistakes you made as an entrepreneur?
Finding experienced Jordanians in the baking and food preparations field was extremely difficult at the beginning. Also, training the delivery staff, ensuring that they are properly behaved, and keeping them committed are all challenges I face.
I think my biggest mistake was adding too many items to my menu without calculating the implications for my daily workflow. Additionally, I think that my small store space doesn’t help the staff when they're working simultaneously.
4) How long did it take you to get funding if you received funding?
It was fairly quick- no more than a week. I applied for a personal loan at the bank and managed to secure the money accordingly.
5) If you have partners, how do you manage your partnership?
I started off partnering with one of my colleagues from my previous job in construction, but our partnership ended soon after launch, because we did not have a similar approach to management. He was picky about little details without being truly involved in the food business.
6) Do you see your market as local, regional, or global? Do you plan to expand? How?
I have been managing one store on Wadi Saqra, but after three years of being in the business, I decided to open a new branch, aimed at youth, which will be close to University of Jordan’s Northern Gate. I chose to open the new location in that business district so that we can begin and finish the day at a similar time to shops in the surrounding area without adding staff shifts.
My plan is to keep steady growth at selected locations and establish a local branch network. Then I aim to build on that established network to expand regionally within touristic locations.
7) What is one technical tool that you cannot live without?
I cannot live with two things:
1. A dough roller. Without it we would never be able to put up with our daily workload especially at rush hour. If we had to, we could eliminate the dough cutter and mixer and perform those steps manually, but never the dough roller; it would take us forever to make pastry if it was not there.
2. A calculator. We calculate everything from our daily supplies, to customer orders, to the end of day cash. It is indispensible for us.
8) What does your spouse or family think of your company?
My family is one that has admiration for food of any kind; they make it a point to pop in unannounced to do a quality check on me! I can tell you that my sisters are my most demanding clients.
9) Have the recent revolutions affected your approach?
Approach no, operations yes. People are becoming more cautious about spending their own cash which means less orders for us. Also, some specific food items (mainly cheese and pickles) which I used to get from Syria are not in supply anymore so I had to look for source replacement without jeopardizing taste. Moreover, the Jordanian Ministry of labor has already started to make changes to its regulations because of the Arab spring and this will surely impact our kind of business, especially if we want to use foreign labor.
10) What advice would give a fellow entrepreneur?
First and foremost, you need to put your client at the heart of every decision you make, look at things from their perspective; understand what makes them interested in your product, what are their decision-making priorities –is it price or quality. Think about what may drive them off your product.
Be clever in choosing your supply chain. Look for good reasonable quality and a reliable source of supply that wouldn’t jeopardize your business at any point.
Be reasonable about what you can and cannot do on your own. Assess your capabilities and assess the risks that accompany any decision you make. I decided to open a new branch only after I felt that I had the capacity to do so and I was standing on solid ground with the first branch.