Ka3k B Semsom follows a long line of food and beverage concepts that, over the years, began life in the Bekaa Valley before heading to the capital.
Zahlé brothers Charbel and Youssef Farah are recent converts to the restaurant sector. For Charbel, the younger of the two, it’s a first step into the food and beverage (F&B) sector.
“I’m an interior architect by trade,” he says. For Youssef, it’s a different story: “He supplies Beirut’s restaurants with mouneh items from Zahlé and the surrounding villages, as well as being involved in the Red Cross” says Charbel.
Two years ago the brothers decided to open a quick-service food restaurant selling reinvented traditional Ka'ak dishes in their hometown of Zahlé, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Four months later, the brothers expand when they opened a branch of Ka3k B Semsom, the name of the restaurant, in the north Beirut suburb of Antelias.
It is not the first time that Zahlé − known as the ‘Bride of the Bekaa and renowned for its food and drink – has exported food concepts to the big city. Casino Mhanna, Tabliyet Massaad and Kasr Fakhreddine, all successful traditional Lebanese food restaurants, have their roots in Zahlé and can now be found in and around Beirut.
“We have taken the traditional ka’ak that our forefathers used to make in the mountains before street vendors began selling it on city streets across Lebanon and brought it into the twenty first century,” says Charbel.
The interior design of Ka3k B Semsom has been well thought out by Charbel, and follows the no-nonsense appeal of ka’ak itself. The design ethos has been kept to a minimum but, like the menu offering, has been brought into the twenty-first century. The restaurants’ interior is stark and modern yet bright and welcoming. Its clean lines extend to the openness of the service counter and kitchen. The staff are meticulous in terms of hygiene – hairnets and plastic gloves are the order of the day, and each table even has a bottle of its own sanitizer so diners can clean their hands before tucking into ka’ak.
“There has to be standards, a system,” says Charbel.
The menu offering is also simple, clean and easy.
“We are specialized in ka’ak and nothing else,” he says. “There are no salads, fries, nothing. Just 40 different fillings and a selection of beverages.”
It’s the kind of modern food concept that wouldn’t look out of place in Beirut’s trendy Mar Mikhael and Badaro districts, but prohibitive rents have prevented the brothers from opening there.
“We have invested USD $120,000 in both restaurants, not including the yearly rent,” says Charbel. “The diesel-fuelled oven was USD $10,000 alone. So, after we undertook a study, we set our sights on Antelias because the area from here to Bourj Hammoud is well populated with residences and commercial entities, such as banks and medium-to-large sized companies. We can make deliveries in these areas too.”
Charbel reveals that the restaurant is not doing badly in its new location. “Zahlé is busier of course, since it is older and everyone knows about us there,” he says.
However, business is slowly and steadily picking up.
“It is Christmas now, so we are getting big delivery orders. The most so far has been a 100, but we expect to exceed that soon,” he says. “We also attend exhibitions and fairs, and occasionally stand on Souk El Akel.”
“I’m confident this concept will work here in the city,” he says. “We have a great clean concept that is inexpensive for us and our customers.”
Looking ahead to the next project, the brothers are about to take Ka3k B Semsom to the next step.
“We are going to develop a food truck express in the coming year. We have the huge kitchen in the Antelias branch, so we can use that to supply the truck with ka’ak,” he says.
Offering advice to those thinking of going into the F&B business, Charbel says: “You have to work hard. You need to be available from the early morning till midnight. Also, success won’t happen overnight. You have to take it slow and move with the flow.”