What happens when you can’t find a restaurant serving the food you crave? Meet the founder who did it herself – with a little help from family and friends.
It’s often been said that food is the best medicine. So it makes sense that the founder and CEO of healthful-fare chain Shawarma Press is a pharmacist by trade. She’s called the U.S. home for 25 years, but Sawsan Abublan and husband Ehap Sabri never lost their appetites for a good shawarma wrap. “Whenever we would travel overseas, we’d seek it out because we craved it all the time,” she says. “It wasn’t anywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and we wanted to start our own business outside of the corporate world.” With her spouse, who has a Ph.D. in supply chain management, she immersed herself in market research and created a business plan to bring delicious, healthful shawarma-centric food to the locals in Irving, Texas.
It was a natural fit, according to Abublan. “We complemented each other. He understands business plans, and my background came into play with regard to the healthful aspect of what we were trying to accomplish. And Mediterranean food is really making in-roads with health-conscious diners,” she says. In addition to its signature wraps, Shawarma Press offers appetizers, like stuffed grape leaves and falafel bites, as well as an array of salads, bowls, and platters, as well as Mediterranean desserts. To help capture the hearts and stomachs of people in search of “cleaner” eats, Abublan made it a point to feature an interactive tool on the Shawarma Press website that allows users to calculate all the nutrition information. “It’s customizable, so you can know exactly what you’re getting and you can add and subtract ingredients to get a dish within the calorie and nutrient range you’re seeking,” notes Abublan.
The couple drew on their knack for analytics when selecting the site for their flagship Shawarma Press, which opened nearly five years ago. “We looked for a mix of residential and businesses, but we are fortunate in that our cuisine appeals to a wide demographic. Even if diners aren’t necessarily looking for healthy food, they love the taste of it,” she says. The company is expanding its footprint with several franchises opening in Walmart stores in 2022.
Abublan isn’t stopping there. She has launched a franchise arm, and now has a team of experts in place to help guide franchisees to success, assisting with everything from site selection to marketing. When assessing franchise applicants, she and her group of advisors look for several qualities. “We seek out people who are enthusiastic and passionate, people who want to build and run their own business. A business background and the ability to learn quickly are also things we look for,” she states.
They also keep an eye out for both team members and franchisee applicants who share the company’s core values: social responsibility; integrity; trustworthiness, and excellence. “When we opened our first location, we immediately reached out to non-profit organizations to see how we could help support less fortunate people around us. So future franchisees will be required to do the same in the communities in which they operate,” Abublan says.
Speaking of helping others, Shawarma Press managed to navigate the pandemic and the related labor shortage successfully through the assistance of friends and family who rallied around the restaurant. “My daughter was behind the cash register helping, and my husband and I both spent a lot of time at the restaurant,” she says. “It was great to see the community around us being supportive. Even from the moment we started pursuing this, I was very lucky because everyone was so supportive. No one said, ‘Oh, you can’t do this.’ They said, ‘Go for it!’”
As for the future, Abublan believes “the sky is the limit. But when you grow you have to study the markets and expand in a meaningful and wise way. We never want to sacrifice the quality of the products.” She urges aspiring restaurateurs to go after their dreams – but not without doing their homework. And that is why she believes a franchise is a good entree into operating a restaurant. “The founders have done a lot of research, and as a franchisee, you can learn from others. It took my husband and me five years for all of this to become a reality, so we can be a resource for others,” Abublan shares.
About Brizo Data, Inc.: Brizo Data helps the foodservice industry by providing the strategic data you need to win in your market. We empower restaurant vendors and restauranteurs with better data for Business Intelligence, Market Research, and Competitive Analysis. Brizo monitors the online footprint of every food serving establishment in the US and Canada – from social media presence, online reviews, menu items, market composition, and even technological choices.