In our second webinar, we interviewed Ali Mortaga and Sama Tobaileh, owners of Brisket restaurant to know more about Brisket’s success story. We learned about what inspired them to start this business, how they managed the restaurant, how they got the best staff and key tips for people who want to start their own businesses.
When did you first open your restaurant and how did you choose where to open?
Ali: The first Brisket branch was launched back in 2002. I am a business developer with no background in the food and beverage industry, I just wanted a humble cozy place with a reasonable rent and nothing fancy.
Sama: One of things that made us start Brisket is that Ali is an extremely picky eater. He had to start his own restaurant because he wanted people to try and taste a real brisket, one that is cooked in the correct way. Everything in Brisket restaurant is his very own recipe.
Your first branch is in Amman, Al-Shmeisani, which is not a prime location for a food place, when in fact, any restaurant owner knows that they should start from a prime location to get to the success they look forward to, you haven’t done so, what is the secret?
Ali: Let me answer your question with another potential question that must have crossed your mind. If you asked me who’s your idol in the F&B industry, my answer would be the humble local hawker who sells their food items in the street. Such vendors have lines of people waiting to buy from them, they sell only one food item, maybe liver sandwiches. I used to be so impressed by them and I wanted to do something similar. People, from all social classes, would come along the way only for the taste of these sandwiches, for the experience. I tried to follow these vendors’ footsteps. If the food I serve is not worth getting all the way to taste it then I shouldn’t be still doing what I do. Thankfully, we did it, we started with a small place, and then we added tables to the pavement and now we expanded to our second branch. Seven whole years in the industry, we’ve never done marketing!
Sama: Not only we haven’t advertised, we also have never said that we sell the best burger or brisket in town.
Ali: The whole point is that if you like our food then you’ll be our customer.
Sama: It is all about the product itself.
Ali: Our followers on Social Media are all loyal customers who followed us because they like what we serve.
Sama: Patience is key. If you have faith and you’re confident enough, your patience will pay off. People share their experiences with each other. A happy satisfied customer will tell ten others and those ten will share their experience with even more people and ultimately you’ll get known.
You have mentioned that you expanded outside of Jordan, can you tell us more?
Yes, we have expanded to AbuDhabi. We have a franchise, partnership and branch model. Interested investors from all over the Arab world contacted us. We got very lucky to have this franchisor in the UAE.
Do you look for potential franchisees?
Ali: No, we never look for one.
Sama: When they contact us, there is this unmeasurable chemistry. When you meet with someone it either works or not.
Ali: Patience is key, patience and timing.
How do you manage to keep an eye on and control the quality of other branches outside of Jordan?
Ali:It all begins with choosing the right investor or franchisor. If you choose the right person then you’d be halfway through. When we choose the investor, we make sure that s/he likes our concept, our vision, that they are not solely profit-driven. I firmly believe that the secret behind any restaurant’s success is generosity and not money. I am determined to preserve the family vibes of Brisket. I want a franchisor who can carry on Brisket culture and replicate it somewhere else. Do what you’re passionate about and the money is only a by-product.
Tell us more about why you chose this cuisine specifically?
Ali: It is all about the know-how. After two years of opening Brisket I went to the US, I visited 18 barbecues within the period of only two weeks, each one was completely different from the other. Each had their own signature, one was known for their brisket, another for their ribs and so on. The slow smoking meat business is all about know-how, and you have to have your very own signature. You have to know what kind of wood you use, what kind of meat you use, how you cut the meat , how you smoke the meat, are you smoking the meat high and fast or slow and low. Knowing exactly what you are doing will get you to your goal.
Was this all self-taught out of passion on how to do it?
Ali: After two years as I’ve mentioned, I went to Texas, although smoked meat wasn’t first started in Texas it started in Tennessee and Florida, in 1509.
I wanted to learn more and I thought that if i found something new and special I might come back with it. I didn’t like 17 smokehouse out of the 18 restaurants I visited, I found out that from my point of view our brisket is superior, and actually there were some Americans who came and visited Brisket here in Amman and they told me that our brisket is juicier and tastier. I haven’t said this because I was hesitant it would be my ego, but when my friend Steve said it out loud, it was confirmed. I was glad that my brisket is better than the top 10 ones in Texas.
Over the past 7 years, lots of other brisket places have opened in Amman, did they take from your market share? Were you affected especially with all this competition?
On the contrary, with all the competition, our sales increased. I am a business developer, so I expected that if more restaurants opened more awareness would be brought on the category. In my opinion, this is a healthy competition, it is a win win for everyone.
Sama, what was your role on all of this?
Sama: Frankly, I didn’t have the vision Ali had about this business. I was working in the advertising industry and I was happy. I thought that this is Ali’s new hobby and he’ll get bored after a while. I thought it would expire at one point. Hence, Ali and I agreed that I am out of this, but to be honest there is something attractive about Brisket. It could be the vibes but I can assure you that we have the loveliest customers. We, in fact, made great friends through Brisket. We met wonderful people. I supported him morally at first but then it got pretty addictive. I look forward to going to Brisket every day.
How did covid-19 affect you? How bad was it? And how are you managing it now?
Sama: We take it day by day. We have to be clear here that unlike other restaurants, the number of our staff is small, we only work one shift and thus we were not affected as others did. However, we haven’t reduced salaries nor have we terminated any of our staff.
Ali: Being a niche business is pandemic proof or economic proof. Our customers are very loyal and as Sama has just said, we take it day by day, we have definitely been affected but at the same time, we achieved the highest sales in a day during corona time.
Sama: The only thing that we did is shifting our opening hours to be in line with the government policy. This is the only measure that saved us. Although shifting our working hours led to working more hours yet this helped us in social distancing.
How do you manage delivery orders? How do you maintain the quality?
Sama: By being honest with our customers. We set expectations and we tell them how to eat it.
Ali: The key is to be truthful. If an order is to be delivered to a relatively far area, we tell them. Again, it is not about sales it comes from the heart, food should be served with love.
What are your future plans?
Ali: Regional expansion. We are planning to hopefully open a branch in Egypt this year.
How do you manage staff?
Ali: I dare to say that the guys who work at Brisket, I trust them with my kids, blindly.
Sama: We ourselves were employees and we know exactly how we wanted to be treated and we treat our staff accordingly. We treat them as family.
Ali: We invest in people, if someone is sick I personally take care of him. I am not obliged to yet I do it full heartedly.
What are the key learnings you would share with others just starting business?
Ali: Don’t be afraid, you only live once. Take the leap of faith to never say I wish I did. Also, the most precious thing in business is time, time is worth money if not more.
At the end, POSRocket is really proud to be part of Brisket restaurant success story. Your story, vision and mission is a good role model for any other restaurant and even business.
You can watch the full webinar here.