Experimenting in the kitchen was always a weekend passion for Abdallah El Chami, who worked in Vancouver’s tech industry for years. After finding success doing occasional pop-ups featuring Middle Eastern-inspired foods, he took a leap of faith, leaving behind a successful career in the tech industry.
Along with two partners, El Chami quickly moved beyond pop-ups and opened a Middle Eastern quick-service restaurant called Superbaba in 2017.
Since then, Superbaba has expanded to a second location in Vancouver. What started off as a food truck to grow a fan base in the city is now a brick-and-mortar space that’s been voted “best casual restaurant” two-years running in Vancouver Magazine.
“I always wanted to [pursue cooking], but it wasn’t an immediate opportunity, especially because my parents weren’t keen on me going to culinary school after I already had a degree in finance and marketing, but now they’re happy because things are working,” laughs El Chami.
Now, the entrepreneur plans to open his first solo venture, a bakery and café called Mishmish in Vancouver’s trendy Fraserhood neighbourhood.
While expanding a business is challenging at the best of times, having the right partners helps make it easier. Technology company provider Square has been part of Superbaba’s growth and expansion since 2019. Today, Superbaba uses a variety of its hardware and software solutions, including Square Reader, Square Register, gift cards, invoices, reporting dashboard and Square Online for ecommerce.
El Chami says this cohesive ecosystem has allowed his business to grow more easily and efficiently, especially with the use of analytics.
“For example, if you have multiple locations and they all have the same menu items, then it’s like a dream because you don’t have to set up the items and categories every time,” says El Chami.
Expansion in the foodservice industry, particularly in today’s tough economic climate, requires a laser-sharp focus on the bottom line. Many restaurant operators are looking for ways to streamline their operations and maximize their offerings, while still giving their customers exactly what they want. According to the 2023 Future of Restaurants Report by Square, virtually all (99 per cent) of restaurateurs surveyed said they plan to take steps to weather a potential recession.
Beyond raising prices, restaurant owners have several other strategies to cut costs and increase profits, including cutting down on menu offerings (33 per cent) and automating certain operational tasks to increase staff efficiency (38 per cent).
To help increase profitability, using technology is essential. At Superbaba, El Chami uses Square’s inventory management system to alert him to menu items that are either big sellers or just aren’t finding favour with customers. One item that recently dropped off the menu was the homemade pickled turnip, which was included in Superbaba’s most popular menu item, the chicken wrap.
“There are a minority of people that love [pickled turnip] and a majority that really hate it, and so they would remove it [from the wrap],” explains El Chami. “It got to the point where I said, ‘These are very expensive to make, they require a ton of labour, and [through analytics] Square is telling us that tons of people are asking to take it out.’” So, he replaced pickled turnip with a more crowd-pleasing pickle, much to the delight of customers.
Scrapping the humble pickled turnip doesn’t sound like a big money saver, but it’s these details that can make a huge difference in the restaurant business and allow for growth in a sector with razor-thin margins.
“Even though we say that restaurant margins are low and we work so hard, there are so many little tweaks that can make your life easier and bring that profitability percentage up because a lot of the little errors add up to a huge amount in the end,” says El Chami.
He likens it to the one per cent marginal gains theory, which is based on the idea that improving in smaller amounts can have a huge impact on things like performance, output and profitability.
In fact, integrating his systems has eliminated errors, which El Chami estimates cost him between $1,000 to $5,000 per year.
“For me, it was being able to streamline everything, from payments to pick-up orders that print right to the kitchen, all the way to using the data analytics to make changes to my menu based on customer behaviour,” he says. “I can do all that with Square.”
As he prepares to open Mishmish in the next few months, El Chami says even though this is a different kind of establishment than his previous ventures, he’s excited by the challenges and knows Square will be like a loyal friend, helping to ease the transition.
He says Square’s solutions “will work great for our counter-service bakery and coffee shop, and since we already are versed in it, it will be easy to train our staff to use it.”
To learn more about Square’s solutions for growing businesses, visit squareup.com/go/big.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Square. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.