“Nowadays young entrepreneurs are competing with us.”
Research and surveys have shown that men and women in their twenties, also dubbed as generation Y, have entrepreneurial minds and are very driven. A new trend in Beirut is emerging, with start-ups flourishing, and most of them launched by the younger generation. The newbies companies are effectively competing with long established ones. One evident question inevitably follows: How have these young entrepreneurs managed to inverse the business power hierarchy in Beirut in such little time? To what do they owe their success?
During the turbulent climate caused by the recession and the political conflicts, young Lebanese citizens migrated to safer European cities such as the likes of London, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and so on. The cities constituted a safe haven for the high-spirited Lebanese who thrived to accomplish something, regardless of the instabilities and crisis their country faced. Once they nailed decent degrees in renowned universities, they went back to their native lands. Inspired by the foreign culture they have absorbed; the graduates embark on a journey to launch their own businesses. From there, a trend has emerged: eateries, and specifically burger joints.
In upcoming areas such as Mar Mikhail in Beirut, one burger joint on average is launched every month. Smoking Bun, The Happy Prince, MJ’s, Divvy’s and Frosty Palace are all burger eateries that compete for the same clients, all located in the trendy Mar Mikhail. The start-ups have taken over the gastronomic market, and are now competing with long established restaurants.
Lamb House is a 40 years old restaurant located by the sea in Manara, Beirut. It has established itself as the epitome of delicious Lebanese cuisine, seafood and burgers. We have “conquered the Lebanese food market”, states Wassim El Cheikh, manager in Lamb House for a solid thirty years. Whilst Lebanese loyal Lamb House customer Nariman Jammal praises the restaurant’s ongoing success: “Not only has it preserved its success but I would go as far as saying it is better”, manager Wassim expresses uncertainties regarding the eatery nowadays. “Nothing lasts forever”, he states cynically mourning over the jeopardized legacy of Lamb House. “Nowadays young entrepreneurs are competing with us. There’s a new burger trend emerging in Lebanon and young men and women are opening burger joints at every corner of the city.”
However not all Lamb House fans have given in to the younger market. Nariman explains how the restaurant still has its own clientele – “People my age still go there like they used to. This is to what extent it has maintained its standard and that’s the point I want to prove.” To the older generation, their childhood eatery “does not compete with new places.” Lamb House has established its namesake, and has conquered its fair share of the market: “Each place has its own clientele, so restaurants are not targeting the same customers and there is no competition”, elaborates Nariman.
But to what extend are the start-ups credible? How have they managed to take over the market in Beirut? We investigate their methods. MJ’s is one of the burger joints that have taken the spotlight from other eateries, in a matter of a mere four months. Although some customers praise the burgers the place serves, others straightforwardly state that they come there to support their friends, even though there are other burger joints that serve tastier food. Paris-based Lebanese Caroline Tarazi tried MJ’s after all the fuss from her surroundings: “Frosty Palace is still the majority’s favorite. But we can always make believe and entertain the circle of friends by saying that MJ’s took over the burger market.”
Wassim criticizes new businesses’ work ethics, owing the success to “PR and connections”. “Young generations support each other, and most of the foot flow is friends from both close and extended circle of people”. He denounces the start-ups and discards them, as they are not credible businesses. Unlike long established businesses that have worked hard to create a name in the market, new ones are relying on social status, and privilege. “They are inversing and redistributing power positions within the culinary industry unfairly”, condemns Wassim.
“Lamb House has worked hard to achieve his status. What have those young men done? Taken money from their parents and opened a restaurant?” concludes Wassim, both angry and saddened. Lebanon is a country known for a palpable gap within social classes, with 2% of its population controlling 90% of its wealth. With the working class fighting to survive in the market whilst the privileged are stealing their thunder, are we witnessing a battle of the classes, of the old VS the new? Some think it’s fair and square and it’s business, others stand by other more traditional work ethics. What is your say on the matter