Lebanon takes road to recovery

Lebanon’s restaurant industry is struggling to regain the flourishing trade it experienced before the onset of war, yet some independent businesses have witnessed signs of recovery.

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  October 26, 2006

Lebanon’s restaurant industry is struggling to regain the flourishing trade it experienced before the onset of war, yet some independent businesses have witnessed signs of recovery. Cat and Mouth, a Beirut-based catering company, had been forced to discontinue its services during July and August, as the demand from its customers to supply food to weddings and private parties came to a standstill. “Catering companies experience a rush in business during June, July and August, however the war this year prevented that. We didn’t have any orders coming through, as people didn’t have the heart to hold celebrations. Everything was postponed until after the violence stopped,” commented Henry Cattan, managing director, Cat & Mouth. Cattan was forced to reduce salaries as a result, but business has gradually started to pick up as the country tries to get back to normal. The conflict in Lebanon resulted in overwhelming drops in takings for many businesses, with restaurants and bars forced to respond to lack of trade by reducing staff numbers, or even closing down. “Business is good for us now, yet during the war we were forced to close everything down for an entire month, so people were not earning salaries. But things are starting to pick up again,” said Mazen Hatoum, assistant manager of El Paladar, a Latino restaurant in Beirut. One success story though, is Shah Café, a popular restaurant in Lebanon, offering Arabic cuisine and live entertainment. “Lebanese people like to recover quickly by having fun, so business has been good recently. We were closed for six weeks, but when we opened again and sent our customers the news, we were fully booked every day,” said George Chalhoub, floor manager, Shah Café. Chalhoub also revealed that the restaurant — which is part of a chain of five outlets —suffered from financial losses of more than US $500,000 this summer, caused by closures and disruptions. According to most of the restaurant owners with whom Caterer Middle East spoke, rebuilding the country’s food and beverage industry has been heavily reliant upon loyal, repeat custom and the gradual recovery of its tourism sector. “The flow here has been very slow, especially in downtown Beirut. Lebanese people are used to such incidents, but it will take a while to get back to normal as the country has been hit so hard this time,” said Tommy Kargatzidis, director of culinary operations, Casper & Gambini’s.

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