Two Syrian small business owners struggle to keep serving traditional Syrian food at Shawarma Shack in Coventry city centre.
Most businesses are struggling with inflation. Even big names closed many of their branches to be able to survive. Small businesses are the ones who are hit the most. Shawarma Shack in Coventry is one of them.
This shawarma house is the only Syrian food place that opened last year in Coventry since the refugees started to arrive in the city in 2014. Ahmad Al Shiekha and Taha Al Abdullah, partners of Shawarma Shack, are from Homs, Syria.
Due to the war in Syria, they were forced to flee the country and started a new journey in the UK, full of challenges. Mr Al Abdullah says, “We faced many obstacles before being able to start this business including the licensing, which took too long. This is due to the bureaucracy that we’re not used to in our country. In the end, we did it and here we are serving Syrian shawarma in Coventry.
Today, and after a year only, inflation is massively affecting us. The increase in fuel price and cost of primary ingredients make it very challenging for our business. We are trying to keep our prices as they are because we have the cheapest food in Coventry city centre and want to stay the cheapest so all people can afford to enjoy our food.”
Their first business was a takeaway shop in Hillfields but it didn’t survive for more than a few months. So they had to close it and look for a better location. Now, they are in the city centre.
Mr Al Shiekha started to work towards starting his own business after a year of arriving in the UK. He says, “We want to introduce Syrian food culture to the British community.”
The two partners have a family spirit and share all the shop’s responsibilities. Mr Al Abdullah says, ”Like all the Syrians, we lost our families in the war, some lost their lives and the others are resettled all over the world. I’m grateful that we found each other here. Our unity is our strength.”
He is qualified in hospitality management and has been in the UK for six years. He adds, “We want to prove to the world that Syrian people are productive and love to work.”
Al Shiekha adds, “We are a new business and the price increase doesn’t help at all. It’s very difficult with high tax rates, employees' wages and everything becoming more and more expensive."
Due to inflation, some prices doubled and tripled in a very short time. After the war in Ukraine, oil prices doubled in three months only. Eggs, chips, packaging costs and energy prices are a few examples of what Shawarma Shack suffers from price rises, especially with chicken and meat. Besides the shortages in vegetables. And because it’s a new business they can’t change the prices to follow the market.
This doesn’t prevent the two Syrian chefs from helping and supporting others. They donate three per cent of their monthly profit to people in need in Syria.
After the earthquake crisis, the two partners decided to support the affected people in Turkey and Syria and did two days of fundraising. All their profit of £6000 was sent to help families in need through the Ummah Welfare Trust. Al Abdullah comments, “This is the least we can do to support people in need.”
They both dream of progressing to a big chain. Al Abdullah emphasised that Syrians have the ability to adapt and turn any dead area into a successful working place.
He says, “We are creative and skilled people and came to the UK to show our skills and we will use them to give back to this country. We would love to integrate into British society and serve food that everyone loves and enjoys. We always look for new ways of serving our food and flavour to other societies.”
His partner Al Shiekha adds, “Thanks to the British community who accepted and welcomed us here.”