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With all the available tech apps and smart gadgets, it has never been easier to start a business. You can literally get started with a smartphone and a credit card. Making business successful however requires much more. It takes skills, guts, drive and the understanding that success does not just happen overnight. Behind every successful business there’s always a story of passion, determination and survival.

Take the restaurant business for example. It is really tough to make a success of a restaurant. Not only you need to offer some of the best food in town to beat competition, but you also have to have a good head for business. And who better understands this than Walid Talj, the owner of Melbourne’s Lebanese landmark  restaurant Dunyazad, who has experienced all — and made it!

Walid shares with us his incredible story, together with a few wise tips for the would-be-entrepreneurs:

“Our father left us when I was 14. Mum tried her best to provide for us and keep us alive in the war raging Lebanon. I was the oldest of 3 siblings, and by default had to became the breadwinner for the family, along with my mother.

One day, whilst searching for food for the family, I was hit by a shrapnel from explosion and ended up in a hospital, in a coma and paralyzed waist down. No one knew where I was. Mum searched every morgue in town, until she somehow found me. I came very close to death at the time. I have no idea, how my mother coped at the time, but she did everything possible to get us out of the country, so we all survive. This is how we ended up in Melbourne in 1976 .

Like many war migrants, we came to Australia with nothing: no degrees, no jobs, no houses, no money. Everything was new – the laws, the language, the systems and the customs. Everything had to be learned and earned. First few years in Australia were all about survival. We worked hard, juggling a few jobs, family, education, trying to save as much as possible to start our own restaurant.

Fast forward 10 years, and in 1987 we took the plunge and started Dunyazad. For us as a family, it was a huge risk, everything we saved went into making Dunyazad, everything was at stake. But we had a dream of creating a unique place, with some of the best Lebanese flavors, and with the Arabian Nights’ magic. Failure was simply not an option. So we made it work, and we have not dropped the ball for 30 years!  

For those who are just starting, I have five simple tips:

1. Love your business and think big

You need to be passionate about what you’re doing. Passion will be your driving force and help you through difficult times.

If you are starting a restaurant, think of it as of a good recipe – every ingredient, dish, decor, service – has to be right. You have to almost be possessed about making people happy, which really means doing whatever possible to make that happen. Every time people come back to enjoy more of our food, music and dance is magic. After 30 years it would be easy to take it for granted, but I love every moment.

2. Your people are your family

Walid's family

It’s important to surround yourself with a great team who all share the same passion and who will support you and each other. You need to make sure that you can trust your people, and that you all have got the same values.

I personally prefer to work with people who don’t ask questions like “What if we fail?”, but rather start every conversation with “When we succeed, we will …”

As a family business we generally don’t rely on financial incentives to retain our people. Instead, we focus on creating a culture of commitment and purpose. Being a family-run restaurant, failure has simply never been an option for us. Walid's motherWe all had the same goal, vision, passion and love for what we were creating. For many years my mother has been the nucleus of the family and the business, our chef de cuisine, creating incredible dishes and training others to bring the best out of Lebanese flavors.

Each of us is a hands-on person, with a good grasp on all aspects of the business. We appreciate the challenges of every role, and we know what needs to be done when someone is away.

3. Learn every aspect of your business

The biggest challenge in the beginning is wearing so many hats at any moment of the day. There’s more to running a restaurant business than cooking. It requires a tremendous amount of hard work and discipline. There’s so much you need to do: the menu, wine list, decor. Then there’s all that stuff that no one sees – the setup, the banking, the finances, insurance, bookkeeping, payroll, utilities — all the things you don’t learn in the cooking school.

Of course, the best way to learn it all is – by doing it! Do not be put off by the challenge – it is your own business and each aspect of it is interesting.

4. It’s all about the menu.

When you are just starting, you can’t be everything to everyone. You have to decide early in the piece what you’re going to do, and what your product is about, and stick to it.

What sets us apart from others is our menu. Our menu consists of authentic Lebanese dishes, combined with unique recipes created by my mother, and it is truly the critical piece of the puzzle. Dunyazad MenuI’ve come to realize that the menu is the manifesto of the restaurant. It determines how we organize the kitchen, who is going to work for us, and what type customers we want to have.

By taking a look at your product or your menu, people should say, ‘I get this place. I know what they are about”

5. Stay focused and stick to your budget

Things will rarely work in line with your entrepreneur’s schedule, so staying focused and patient is a lifesaver, especially when something happens beyond your control. Learning how to wait for things without stress is critical.

In the restaurant business you are under the spotlight from day one. Maintaining budget, schedule and staff is one of the most difficult parts. If someone doesn’t show up – we’re short, and those mishaps do happen.  But as a family, we are a strong team, where each of us plays a part and counts on one another.

I also have a simple rule, “We do not spend more than we earn.” We stay frugal, within the budget, in good times and bad. This is how we have survived and flourished for the last 30 years.

To date, with its’ age-old tradition of warm Lebanese hospitality, Dunyazad is the heart and soul of our family. We welcome you to step into our magic place, full of Middle Eastern ornaments, lanterns and ‘Arabian Nights’ murals, join us for some truly unique tastes and experience, and get inspired to create your own magic.”

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