What would be your two-minute elevator pitch?
BELI is a family restaurant opened by a mother and her two daughters. Half Lebanese, half Armenian and born Belgian, this rather special formula was the starting point for our main idea: to propose a modern take on Lebanese cuisine in Brussels, between Mediterranean food, oriental flavours and European dining. We’ve been based in the famous neighbourhood of Sablon/Zavel since March 2016. After almost three years of experience, hard work and positive feedback from our customers, we decided to go a step further and create our very own Lebanese fine products range. Coming straight from the homeland, we carefully selected farmers and companies that were in accordance with our vision.
List three factors that make Brussels’ entrepreneurship landscape unique.
- The capital of Europe and a multicultural city: Brussels is a heteroclite city with an exceptional mix of environments, cultures and people. The city is well-known for being a very selective market. Indeed, thanks to its multiculturality, there are a multitude of restaurants proposing the same kind of food at the end of the day. For example, there are over 50 Lebanese restaurants just in Brussels. So you have to be really specific in what you propose, or your brand will never stand out.
- The power of word of mouth: Brussels is a small town and word of mouth is effective. But this efficiency can be double-edged: good reviews spread just as fast as bad ones. Nowadays this mechanism is faster than ever because of review websites. The horeca sector is the most implicated, but now even doctors are ranked. There’s no room for mistakes anymore!
- Brussels, a rough market: People often say, “If you can succeed in Brussels, you can succeed anywhere.” It is indeed difficult to satisfy the Belgian customer – they know what they want and can be rather demanding. A common phrase in the horeca industry is that you first have to survive three years before you can consider your business viable and strong enough to withstand the Brussels jungle. This can be hard at times, but once you’ve conquered Belgian market, you’ll have the necessary luggage to export your business abroad.
You have to be really specific in what you propose, or your brand will never stand out.
What are the three biggest challenges you faced when starting up your business?
- Administration: first of all, the complexity of administration one needs to undertake in order to start a business, especially in horeca. Time and delays are the first sources of frustration. We personally had to wait more than seven months before receiving our permit – though we were quite lucky to receive it anyhow in light of Brussels’ laws. Restaurant permits in Brussels are granted to the venue itself. Once it is accepted, the city council cannot go back on its decision. It means that any kind of establishment can be set up in said venue, resulting in the city’s lack of control. For example, there are so many fast-food restaurants in downtown Brussels that it has decreased the estate value of some the neighbourhoods. This is why they’re so extremely picky about accepting new permits nowadays.
- Working as a family: as we are a family business, it’s been really difficult for us to understand how to separate the professional aspects of our relationships from the personal ones. In fact, our most negative aspect is also our biggest strength – honesty. We know how to be frank and clear with each other, making working together easier. On the other hand, harsh criticism can sometimes be taken too personally.
- Making concessions: no one realises the amount of work required to launch a new business until they embark on this adventure for themselves. The work can be really tough because of its uncertainty and demands patience and determination. We decided to end our respective secured employee status to make ourselves 100% applicable to launch our new project, even if it was risky.
How did you benefit from hub.brussels’ expertise in the conception of your business?
We benefited from their experience in the field: by confronting us with their jury, it obliged us to clarify our project. Once we got their approval, we knew we were headed in the right direction. This was a great source of a moral support, which, when launching a business is priceless. Simply put, their financial help was significant, especially during the launch. Finally, the advertising it offers was really effective. They were the first ones to give us visibility: people walking past BELI recognised the Atrium.brussels poster on our window and got curious.
List three pieces of advice you would give to the budding entrepreneur.
- Don’t be afraid to go for it – keep believing in your project, even if it looks insurmountable.
- Take advice from peers in the same sector, don’t be scared of questioning yourself and some aspects of your business.
- But most of all, surround yourself with competent and motivating people who you trust.