Want classic American food with a twist? The Al Shafei brothers are doing their best to help you satisfy those cravings. Find out how these two young visionaries are bringing mouthwatering and inspirational new flavors to Bahrain’s international culinary scene.
Could you please introduce yourself and your business to our readers?
I’m Yousif Al Shafei, and I co-own Crave Restaurant in East Riffa with my brother, Ahmed. My background is in architecture. I came up with the initial architectural concept for the restaurant, and Ahmed took it from there, changing things to suit the legal requirements. I came in with five years of experience in marketing, which helped us come up with a workable and effective advertising strategy.
Ahmed’s background is in banking and finance. He has benefitted from extensive study abroad, where he learned money management—which, of course, helps us immensely in the successful operation of the restaurant.
What inspired you to open Crave?
We wanted to be our own bosses, unconstrained and unlimited by outside forces and factors. We wanted to be solely responsible for our own income and our own creation.
Your brother is your business partner. Some say, “Don’t go into business with family.” How is your experience with that going?
What happens at home, stays at home; what happens at work, stays at work. We made that agreement a while back, and it’s been fine so far, alhamdulillah. Whatever suggestions we might have, we run them by each other—but not verbally. It’s more like carrying out the action first, and then seeing what happens as a result. If it fails, we find an alternative, and let that one go.
What obstacles did you face (or are you currently facing) at Crave?
Our biggest challenge has been raising awareness of our startup in a more business-friendly kind of way. We agree that all of the standards that have been set by the applicable ministries work to our benefit. They help to guide us; but the fact that information kept coming in sporadically (rather than on a one-time visit) is actually what kept us from opening, at first. It was time-consuming, and cost us a lot of effort. We had to go back and forth with a new requirement every time.
How did you fund Crave? Did you receive financial support from any of the organizations in Bahrain, such as Tamkeen? If so, how did your experience go?
The funding for Crave came solely from the two of us. We didn’t look for funding elsewhere, but we did think of applying to Tamkeen at first. We tried, actually—but the process was not as easy as we had thought it would be. We did get numerous phone calls from them offering support, but the assistance was still going to require an extra three- to four-month process, and we were already about to start losing money just through paying our rent and salaries.
Can you tell us more about the marketing approach you’ve decided to take? Is it working well?
Our initial marketing approach was a little like the “Got milk?” ad campaign. We went ahead and found a few friends to pose for us. We covered them with barbecue sauce: gave them barbecue mustaches, barbecue-covered shirts, and so on. We began marketing Crave well in advance of opening day. People became curious. They wanted to know what Crave was, and why everyone in the advertising campaign was such a mess. Now we use only Instagram and word of mouth for our advertising; it’s all we’re dependent on, and that works well for us.
Would you say that marketing a restaurant is exactly like marketing a product or service? What’s the difference?
I believe it is a lot like marketing a product or service, yes. Many businesses and industries—for example, clothing, cosmetics, and sports gear—now start out with Instagram, and wait for the “he said, she tried, he saw” to pick up. At the moment, social media is our only marketing strategy.
What’s working, and what’s not working, on social media?
People are responding to our new dishes. They come in saying they saw something new that we advertised, and that they want to go ahead and try it. What’s not working is our announcements of opening/closing times and scheduled holidays. People don’t seem to read the caption; maybe they are only noticing the pictures of the food.
Starting a business is a journey and an experience of many successes and failures. Can you tell us about something that you tried, but that and didn’t work?
Not really; everything we tried—even if it didn’t work—eventually led to something that did.
Are you planning to expand to other locations?
For the time being, no. We like to keep it unique. The place has its own personality. Consistency and quality tend to go down once a business starts opening up in different locations. We want to keep it real.