Photographer: Aleksi Kokora – Editor: Sems Erik
When it comes to cooking delicious and healthy food in the Arab world, Syria is famous for its rich and diverse foods, especially its vegetarian meals. With that being said, there is no need to travel to Syria to witness and taste all those dishes because Finland has become an incubator for some highly reputable Eastern restaurants with excellent services, which has become essential support for cultural diversity in Finland in terms of food and culinary art. In fact, Finnish citizens can visit the restaurant chain KARAZ to experience an unforgettable Syrian meal, where the new quality is unmatched elsewhere.
Some may argue that many oriental restaurants in Finland serve popular cuisines, but the majority of these restaurants rely on fatty meat-based cuisine and grills. Additionally, their quality of food and services are not in line with the Finnish market and the expectations of customers, particularly the Finns and tourists visiting Finland. Given that the aim is to provide nutritious meals without long-term negative effects, the KARAZ meals adhere to the European criteria in a modern and non-traditional way, particularly in terms of the ingredients used, the methods of preparation, and the materials used.
About the Founder
Mohammed Al-Hallaq is a 30-year-old man who escaped to Finland in 2014 during the war in Syria. As he focused on completing his university studies in information engineering in Damascus, he worked at some of his father’s several restaurants in parallel with his studies. He was also required to serve in the Syrian military after graduation, but things were ambiguous at the time due to the tumultuous conflict, in which he did not want to be a participant. He finds inner peace and comfort through reading and sports, particularly in the science of self-development.
Launching the idea
In 2018, my middle brother came up with the restaurant concept. Due to my work on commercial projects through “multimedia” telemarketing, I was not interested in traditional commercial projects. When my older brother insisted on starting the project during his visit to Finland in late 2019, it finally altered my perspective and enthusiasm. As a general chef with experience in Saudi Arabia, he has held a long list of awards and recognition in the culinary world. With him being a key link in the project’s concept, it’s produced a clear vision that we have sought out as a group of brothers with a variety of experiences and skills.
Even with our clear vision, I can’t comment on the obstacles we conquered in our desires to be the owners of a restaurant that satiated Finland’s culinary needs. Nonetheless, the article showcases something new in the world of restaurants and the types of dishes that are common here, especially vegetarian meals in the Eastern kitchen.
Why is it called this name ” Karaz ” ?
The name KARAZ came after several months of thinking. Our choice of name will be the mark that distinguishes us. We were looking for a name in the Arabic language that is also common in all cultures. The literal meaning of the word “KARAZ” is cherry in English, so we purposefully wrote the company’s name as it is pronounced in Arabic.
My journey to entrepreneurship
For more than seven years, I have worked in the field of network marketing, which has changed some of my convictions. It ultimately led me to believe that personal business is the best way to achieve an individual’s ambition in practice. But due to many challenges, it can be difficult to do so in Europe.
I also believe that starting a project on your own is an opportunity to support the practical integration of people with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and secure job opportunities for others. Whether they are immigrants or indigenous people, their contributions still benefit the host country, which fuels my motivation to be the owner of my project.
During my early years in Syria, several of my projects failed due to my age or lack of experience. More importantly, it was because I failed to develop the elements of true success at the time. However, after joining the restaurant project and gaining knowledge from conferences, training courses, intensive workshops, and work trips around the world, I was able to build a successful business.
” Believe in yourself and learn from your mistakes.”
I always say that to whoever wants success, they will get it as long as they persevere for their own sake. When I first came to Finland, it was not the same as it is now; over the last seven years, it has evolved significantly in terms of the available opportunities and facilities that have been granted to people wishing to open projects. I can now confidently say that Finland is a suitable ground for new projects and ideas that stand apart from what is typically customary.
As such, I believe now is the perfect time for immigrants to prove themselves and leave their mark in the Finnish business world. In theory, I can say that I was 100% successful in terms of localization with KARAZ. In practice, I am still learning, conducting research, and developing myself. By combining theory and practice, my presence has been established in a short period of time through my project with my brothers. The reactions and outcomes that we have achieved thus far demonstrate the rapidity of our successful development. We are also preparing to open a new branch of our restaurant chain in Kaleo.
“Success is a relative term that depends on your point of view, and differs from one person to another.”
A combination of
By cultivating the advantages that other places do not have, we have been able to bring forth the Eastern cuisine in all of its details and flavor. We serve Eastern dishes in a modern and new way that reflects a distinct cultural mix in terms of taste, shape, and presentation. Because Syrian cuisine is generally rich in vegetarian dishes, it has become a popular trend in Finland due to the lack of specialized restaurants. In order to keep up with this trend, we have relied on the vegetarian presence on our menu – more specifically, our highly-demanded mushroom shawarma – along with other essential dishes, such as some types of white meat. We also attract a wide range of customers; 90% of them are Finns, and the other 10% is divided into two groups: tourists and Arabs.
A long-term vision
As I visited many European countries and dined at some of Europe’s most famous Eastern restaurants, I learned that they fiercely compete with foreign restaurants in terms of the food quality, overall design, and service quality; the competition was particularly notable in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Poland.
To sum it up, one can see that Eastern cuisines are in high demand among young people regardless of where you are. Their cravings motivate me to work toward building a distinctive concept throughout several regions and governorates Finland. On a wider scale, there is potential for KARAZ to go abroad over the next five years.