Habibi … or Hawara? (-> write us in the comment section below!)
Social commitment combined with outstanding food. Not an easy task. It sounds plausible, but nothing is impossible. The founders of the restaurant Habibi & Hawara proved just that by choosing to “host” instead of “post” during the refugee wave. They recognised the potential of the people and decided to actively help with their integration.
How they managed to do that, about their vision and what the life of co-initiator Katha Schinkinger looks like, can be found in this Green Business Interview!
Have fun while reading!
We appreciate your opinion and can only advise you: act instead of only talking, so get yourself to the Restaurant for Brunch & Bon Appetit!
How and when did you get the idea to start your own business?
Habibi & Hawara is not my first company, but it is certainly my first large one. I actually have a Marketing & PR background. I was self-employed in PR for a long time and then worked for a media and advertising company. In 2015, the idea for Habibi & Hawara came about as part of the major refugee movement caused by the crisis in Syria.
We launched the “Host instead of Post” initiative because we wanted to act instead of expressing our feelings on Facebook. This is where Martin Rohla – our “Boss-Hawara” – pays a role. In cooperation with NGO’s, we invited refugees to spend a day in the country in order to recover from the stresses, at least for a short time and to get into conversation with Austrians.
This resulted in many “hosting instead of post” events. During these events we met many refugees and saw not the problem, but the great potential in them.
Well-trained people who master their craft, entrepreneurs, academics, etc. Of course, they could not speak German yet, but they were equipped with knowledge and experience. So, we had the idea to start an entrepreneur incubator and we didn’t know exactly which branch. We gloriously came up with the idea of starting a gastronomic project.
So, the start was very challenging and it still is. The advantage of gastronomy is that you can teach someone the know-how relatively quickly.
The big vision of training entrepreneurs is still there. We are now opening the second Habibi & Hawara in November in Vienna’s Nordbahnviertel and the third restaurant is planned for spring 2020. Our main goal is to establish a social franchise system.
This is how legally and economically independent entrepreneurs can work together under the strong Habibi & Hawara brand.
What was your motivation and vision at that time?
A lot has changed. My motivation to work does not come from 2015, but has been around for a long time. I have looked after many PR customers in the areas of fashion, art, and music. But there was that gnawing feeling in me. This: “That’s not enough for me, I need more meaning behind my work”. I am a mother of four and as a mother, you think about the future of the children. One thinks of sustainability, fair distribution, and equal opportunities.
Helping the umpteenth brand to sell sneakers which are likely to be manufactured under precarious conditions was no longer what I wanted to do and I had a desire for meaningful work. Then in 2015 one thing gave the other while I was still on maternity leave.
My current job is incredibly satisfying, always challenging and sometimes particularly challenging. In social business you certainly don’t have the same earning opportunities as in the “for profit” area. What you have in contrast, however, are fantastic colleagues and a vision that you can hold on to and that also drives you. And you can look in the mirror in the morning and actually answer your reflection: “Yes, I’ll try my best.”
Were there initial challenges?
Naturally! Gastronomy is certainly not the easiest branch to choose. Especially in Vienna it is quite demanding because there is just such a large offer – we are totally spoiled. We have so many high-quality restaurants. We’re not talking about the “fine dining” restaurants in Vienna, which are also fantastic, but really about medium-sized restaurants where you can eat very, very well and at a good price.
The competition is quite big and you have to stand out with quality in service and cuisine, and also having a good story. It was a challenge at first because the staff had to be trained. If mistakes happened, we made up for it with friendliness and charm, because of course it takes time for people to learn their craft. Now, however, we are also of a very good standard in the kitchen and the next challenge is to continuously improve the quality.
Our employees have different cultural backgrounds, e.g. most of them come from Syria but also from Kenya or Turkey, which initially made the language barrier a challenge. But most employees have reached level A2 or even B1 according to an impact analysis by WU students. This could be achieved through cooperation with the AMS and language courses.
We have invested a lot and can now look back on a few milestones. And many are still to come.
We have expanded the main location and we sell our own merchandising through our web shop, Habibi & Hawara products have recently become available in all Merkur stores and in selected Billa branches in Vienna. Big recommendation by the way! We are currently working on our first Habibi & Hawara cookbook and the expansion is always being driven forward.
A lot of organisational developments have been carried out in the background and investments have been made in business consulting. We had a great cooperation with the AMS’s impulse consultation. At the same time, I myself completed my master’s degree in social management at the WU Executive and the master’s thesis also dealt with the Habibi & Hawra social franchising project.
We invested a lot, learned a lot and ideally filled our important key positions in the company.
The fact that we are generating a positive cash flow after 3 years is already a great success.
What does a typical day in your life look like today?
A typical day is an atypical workday for me. There is so much you can do … it’s always different. If you are crazy about structuring and really want to follow your work schedule from nine to five, then you are probably not in good hands here.
Things are constantly changing and something different is happening every day. You have to remain flexible both in spirit and in action. I am here at least once a day, in the office and my work is very mobile. That’s how I did it before and it suits my personality very well.
What are the key skills and qualities to succeed in your industry?
You need courage, entrepreneurship, optimism, and the absolute adherence to the vision. That’s how I would sum it up. Of course, a well-coordinated team with different technical and academic skills is also important. My communication skills didn’t hurt the company either.
It is always good to have people with you who are good at networking, who are multitasking-capable and who do not give in when the stress increases.
Do you have a secret of success?
I think the secret of success is not to believe in a secret of success.
However, I think that the courage to make mistakes is important. I learned from Martin Rola that it is important not to be afraid to make decisions. Make the decision and make it quickly. If it wasn’t the right one, you can still correct it afterwards.
I think that stands in the way of many. Because if you work in a corporation or in a large company, courage to make decisions and mistakes is not necessarily rewarded.
Here with us it is absolutely possible to make mistakes … you just shouldn’t repeat them and above all, you should learn from them.
How do you / your business earn money?
Our company is a social business that is clearly also profit-oriented. We don’t just distribute the profits; we re-invest them.
Remuneration or salaries for employees and managers must be included in a good business plan right from the start. We have to be economically successful, otherwise we cannot live up to our social and ecological responsibility and vision.
Is there anything that you think can be improved on your industry?
Yes, especially when it comes to the catering industry. It’s getting tougher. I’m not just talking about us now, but if you look at the fluctuation of staff, restaurant openings and closings, tax relief that benefits the staff on the one hand and makes the hosts survive on the other would be conceivable. Young asylum seekers who are in an apprenticeship should be allowed to stay. At least until their training is completed and people have the opportunity to consolidate what they have learned for years to come.
When it comes to social entrepreneurship, a lot is happening in Vienna. There is the SENA or the Impact Hub with a huge network with other social entrepreneurs and a lot of exchange, which I really like and think is important. The demand for social and ecological business ideas is growing. This is a good sign for all of us and I am also talking about the next generations. A lot more can be done, but this is a good place to start.
If you could start again, would you do something different?
Actually no, because “Never regret because if it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s an experience. “
I had my first child at the age of 23, studied on the side and then became self-employed relatively quickly. I worked in the lifestyle bubble for a long time. It was fun, important, and I learned a lot. Today I know a lot of young people who start their social or green business in their early 20s. When I look at them like this, I just think: “Oh God, where was I at this age?”. If I were that age again, I would probably learn something.
What do you advise others for their lives and careers?
Believe in yourself. Really believe in yourself!
Believe in the idea, no matter how crazy it may seem. Don’t give up right away, but pursue the goal. Write down the worst-case scenario. Firstly, most of the time, even an absolute fail is not so dramatic, and secondly you can learn a lot from it.
If you start a company in the future or if become consumed with the idea of doing so, the issue of sustainability must be considered from the very start. You owe it to yourself, just as you owe it to the next generation. Even if a lot is already happening, many large companies still have a lot to do and need to change urgently.
A good business idea should also be checked to see whether it is doing something good for the next generation or not. Does economic sustainability work?
In truth, it is the 3 pillars of sustainability: the idea must function economically as well as socially and above all ecologically, in view of the challenges ahead.