Hassan is Building More Than a Restaurant

A group of boys passes by Hassan’s new restaurant, smiling in their school uniforms. The boldest shouts out hello. The restaurant has only been open for seven weeks, but these boys are already devoted customers. They often stop for a half-sandwich–which costs around 40¢–on their way home from school. 

“Do you like Hassan’s sandwiches best? Or the ones your mom makes at home?” we ask. 

“These ones!” The boys’ answer is instant and punctuated with more smiles. The beef sandwiches and falafels, they assure us, are the best. 

During the day, Hassan’s customer base is young. At night, his customers are largely daily workers looking for something to eat while watching soccer. All are made to feel welcomed and valued. Photo by Erin Wilson/PLC.

This is Daily Life Now

It’s an ordinary conversation we have with these boys, residents of one of the many camps for displaced families in northern Iraq. The neighborhood homes here are still made of nylon tents, as far as the eye can see, eight years after they were displaced by ISIS. 

Hassan, at front, takes a break from prepping food with his cousin. His family is committed to making this business a success. Photo by Erin Wilson/PLC.

Half of the families that live in this camp return to their farms in Sinjar to work the land over the summer, but they come back to the camp in the fall. Their homes in Sinjar were destroyed, as was much of the civil infrastructure. There is nowhere for them to live except for this camp. Residents had hopes of returning to their hometowns, but the Turkish government continues a bombing campaign on the wide swath of land south of their border. It’s become obvious to most of these displaced families they will never be able to return home. 

This is home now.

And with that shift in perspective comes the need to build a community that has more of the elements that make daily life feel normal. That includes restaurants where you can get a quick sandwich, shawarma, or bowl of soup. That’s why after less than two months in business, Hassan is already making plans to expand.

Standing at the front door of Hassan’s restaurant, you can see the edge of the camp and the mountains beyond. After eight years of displacement, he and his neighbors are still living in temporary nylon tents. No one is looking forward to the approaching winter. Photo by Erin Wilson/PLC.

Coaching Businesses to Success

Hassan’s days are long as he builds his new business from scratch. His wife, brother, and cousin have all pitched in to help. They start to prepare food by 10 am each morning and wrap up serving meals around midnight. Hassan tells us he manages to get five hours of sleep each night. “It’s enough,” he says. 

Hassan uses the workbook designed by our job creation team to track his business expenses. He paused when he saw an entry with no revenue—he was closed that day to take his wife to the hospital. This workbook is proving to be a valuable tool as he builds his business. Photo by Erin Wilson/PLC.

Apart from students, the bulk of his orders come from customers of tea shops in the camp, which don’t serve food. Many men in the camp spend their evenings in tea shops, watching soccer on television, and chatting about daily life. As the hours go by, they get hungry, and now turn to Hassan for something to eat. He gets orders of up to 25 sandwiches at a time. In fact, word spread quickly, and he’s getting calls from potential customers in other camps nearby. 

Hassan brings out the workbook he uses to track business details, which was provided by Preemptive Love’s job coaches. Our job creation team designed a workbook for all new business owners to use, to track expenses, sales, goals, etc. Hassan runs his finger down a column of numbers—he can immediately tell us which days have been his best for sales, and which days were slowest. He credits this tool with helping him to find success quickly, as he’s been able to keep a close eye on spending. He doesn’t think he would have done this on his own. 

The Future is Filled with Chicken and BBQ

After just seven weeks in business, Hassan is already making plans for expansion. He’ll make the little restaurant larger, so more customers can sit inside during bad weather. He’ll expand the menu, bringing in a machine to roast rotisserie chicken (lots of chicken) and a barbecue. There will be a motorbike to make deliveries to the farthest corners of this camp, and the camps nearby. And as soon as he can, he’ll start paying his brother and cousin and hire more help. 

Hassan is committed to his family and his neighbors, providing for their needs. He’s excited to create jobs for more people living in the camp. And he’s doing it all in a thoughtful, methodical way.

Hassan has the energy to help his community rebuild a life they never asked for, but need to create. We’re honored to partner with him to do it, and you can be part of it.