It is no longer a surprise to see successful female entrepreneurs. However, when one comes across them in the food and beverage sector that can still often arch an eyebrow. Aline Kamakian, the cofounder of Beirut’s now famous Armenian restaurant Mayrig, is now looking to open branches in other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
During an interview with the Entreprenergy podcast, Kamakian, who entered the business world at the age of 17, she shared her ups and downs as a female in the business world.
Now also the cofounder of FIG Holding, an insurance and investment consultancy, she started to work after her father passed away, soon entering the insurance field. It was in 1993 when she decided to follow her favorite quote “believe in your capacities and adapt”, that she decided to change her life.
She hadn’t previously had any experience in the dining field. She didn’t know how to run a restaurant, how to coordinate meals, or how to price them. However, as she was preparing Armenian food for a family lunch one day, she and her cofounder Serge Maacaron took the decision to open an Armenian restaurant, something, that at the time, no one else was specializing in.
In one week, Kamakian and Maacaron managed to rent a venue and started working in it at once, gathering traditional Armenian food recipes from mothers, trying them at home to decide which ones to add to the menu.
Knowing that failure is one of the biggest parts of entrepreneurial life, Kamakian says that the biggest failure she faced was when she opened a branch for the restaurant in Jeddah. The franchisee turned out to be a person unable to manage the restaurant or preserve the reputation it had built in Lebanon. Further problems arose when she tried to dissolve the partnership, and were only able to take the franchise from him two years later. Check out the podcast to hear her tips on partnership.
Kamakian hasn’t been dissuaded though, this year she is planning to open another branch of Mayrig in KSA.
The female entrepreneur
Kamakian, who says she has had an entrepreneurial spirit ever since she was little, did not want to work in a 9-to-5 job, even in worst case scenarios. She chose instead to work independently as an insurance policy broker to pay her university tuition fees and make a living. “Women selling products in the Middle East are taken to be selling themselves,” said Kamakian. “This put us through some difficulties and exposed us to harassment, especially when it came to bank loans in which you need a guarantee from the spouse or the father.”
After finding success in both insurance policies and restaurants, she says that she no longer faces difficulties restricted to women, but rather ones that anyone in the business world faces. However, these difficulties are often much greater for women.
Open to any woman wanting to get in touch with her about the entrepreneurial journey she is very active on her social media accounts. “And why not?” she says, herself having benefited from the Vital Voices network which supports female entrepreneurs.
Vital Voices is a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in 1997, whose board of directors includes renowned Arab female figures, businesswomen, as well as female CEOs, university professors, journalists, ambassadors, government officials, and many other active women. Aimed at supporting women expected to become entrepreneurs and leaders in the future, they look to invest in future leaders seeking to make their communities and countries better places to live.
Kamakian who obtained the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award from the BLC Bank in Lebanon, added that she has realized the dream of her father who always wanted to own a restaurant before passing away.
And a bonus tip from the successful businesswoman? “Don’t expect people to always congratulate you on what you do.”
To hear more about Kamakian’s journey to success listen to the podcast below (Arabic).