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Creating a Middle Eastern food empire

Photos courtesy Paramount Fine Foods

By Sarah Manning
Mohamad Fakih didn’t plan on a career in the food industry—he studied gemmology, then spent a large part of his time working in the jewellery business—but when opportunity knocked, he opened the door. By the end of 2016, he had actually opened 51 doors, to Paramount Fine Foods locations. Beginning in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Fakih took his brand across the country before expanding internationally.

In the beginning
It was an ordinary errand that led Fakih to the doorstep of the original Paramount restaurant in Mississauga, Ont. Fakih’s wife asked him to buy some baklava and directed him to this specific location.

“I drove there and when I walked in, the place was really run down, I can still remember the way it looked,” he says. “I walked in to buy some baklava and then the owner came to me and said, ‘would you lend me a quarter of a million dollars?’”

He was (unsurprisingly) shocked. At the time, Fakih was receiving media attention for his success as a home builder and Paramount’s original owner recognized him, knowing of his accomplishments. He was hesitant, but gave the man his business card before leaving the restaurant.

After much discussion with his wife, Fakih ended up making the loan and shortly thereafter took over the restaurant, as the owner was unable to turn business around with the loan. He admits he had no experience in the food and beverage industry when he started working to save the business.

“I hired food, beverage and management consultants,” he says. “We were losing money while we were learning, but we were making sure the customers were happy so we didn’t lose them, too.”

Paramount Fine Foods executive chef William El Dbaissy joined the team in 2013.

Alongside these consultants, Fakih brought several reputable Middle Eastern chefs over to Canada to help with 
menu development.

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Eventually, the first Paramount Fine Foods was born into its current form—
a restaurant focused on delivering fresh, healthy food and an authentic Middle Eastern dining experience. Once the restaurant turned (and remained) profitable, Fakih and his team were ready to open a second location.

“We did and it was a mess again.” he says. “Apparently, the systems we created were good for only one location. That day, I realized at every stage things will change and I have to be ready to modify the systems to make sure we are consistent.”

From business owner to franchisor
As with the food industry, Fakih had little experience with franchising.

“I always say ‘it’s good to know what you don’t know,’” he explains. “I’m aware of what I don’t know a lot about, so I go after the people who do and I bring that knowledge to my group.”

This led to the hiring of Fakih’s first consultant, Michel Gagnon, a board member of the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) Fakih had read about in the Toronto Star. For months, the duo brainstormed about what level of success could be obtained by going down the franchising path, rather than the single-owner route.

“I had two options; settle for the four or five locations I had, or take the dream to the next level,” says Fakih.

Ultimately, he chose to franchise. Rather than hire managers for new locations, he wanted them to be run by people with a financial stake in their success. Economically, it was the right choice.

“Expanding without franchising would have required an enormous amount of capital, which we didn’t have,” he says. “That’s the struggle of a lot of growing companies: you want to grow bigger and faster than your income allows.”

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