This article appeared in the May, 2014 edition of Venture.
Jordanians can’t seem to get enough of the tasty homemade treats meticulously crafted by a new wave of Internet savvy startups.
By Jane Hosking
Three Jordanian startups have seen incredible success since they began making sweets from their own home kitchens. By finding a niche market that caters to the Jordanian sweet tooth, and through the use of social media to advertise their products, these businesses demonstrate the potential success of starting small with a home-based business that has low operational costs. Not only do they provide their customers with delicious sweets, but they also offer inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and prove that while establishing a new business is always a challenge, it isn’t an unattainable dream.
Founder: Rami Haikal
Sweets include: Caramels, toffees, candy and caramel apples, and caramelized peanuts.
For Rami Haikal, sweet making has long been a family affair. “My grandfather used to own a big factory of sweets. All the members of my family used to work with him,” he recalled. But when the business was wound down in part because it could no longer compete with cheap foreign imports, Haikal began to experiment with making his own gourmet sweets at home. “I kept working on the recipes for one and a half years until I perfected it,” Haikal said.
His creations proved to be such a big hit with family and friends that he eventually decided to set up a business around selling them. The caramels and toffees in particular were so well received that he took the risky decision to quit his software development job to focus full-time on developing his Toffimelt brand, which he set up in April 2013. “I didn’t have an investor. I started all by myself and I didn’t have big capital,” said Haikal, who single-handedly sources all his ingredients, cooks the sweets, deals with orders and deliveries, and markets Toffimelt via its website and social media.
But the risk and hard work seems to have paid off. Haikal said that the demand for his sweets, with names like Pistachio Coffee Crunch and Coffeemelt, has been steadily growing. He’s also started winning bigger corporate deals for occasions like Valentine’s Day, he sells his products in the popular local coffee shop, Books@Cafe, and supplies toffee to the Four Winters ice cream parlor for one of their flavors.
There’s even been international interest shown in Toffimelt, with Haikal receiving an offer to open a sweet workshop in Dubai. But he intends to keep his base in Jordan for the time being. “I’ve had lots of offers. But for me, the whole idea is that I wanted to start something that is based is Jordan,” he said. “I want it to be known as a Jordanian product.”
Haikal is in the process of setting up a dedicated work space, which should be ready later this year. But while he acknowledges the necessity of scaling up to meet growing demand, he still advises anyone wanting to start a business to begin from home. “When you look around at businesses, sometimes you’ll find that they open a store and pay too much for rent and decorations. Then after three or four months they shut up shop because they can’t cover costs and maybe the idea was not studied well enough,” he said. “If you want to start something and you can do it from home, then why not just do it? If it goes well then you can take it and make it bigger.”
Chef De La Soul
Founder: Rawan Tamimi
Sweets include: Dessert jars filled with banoffee pie, strawberry cheesecake, apple crumble, and chocolate peanut butter.
When Rawan Tamimi graduated from Amman’s Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, the 20-year-old decided to pour her long-held culinary passion into Chef De La Soul, the sweet making business she set up from her home in January. “I wanted to do something that I enjoy and at the same time make people happy,” she said.
The concept for her unique product came to her one day after she baked a cake and then put the leftovers in a jar. Today, she daily prepares and personally delivers around 100 of her dessert jars, which are filled with enticing recipes, such as strawberry cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter.
Her lovingly-crafted sweets were especially popular last Valentine’s Day, when she received a big corporate order for 350 jars. Tamimi worked through the night to get the order done on time, and then had another two big orders for a total of 100 jars, in addition to her normal orders. “It was very tiring and challenging, but I did it,” she said.
It’s important to note that social media has played a big part in her success so far. She opened a Chef De La Soul Facebook page shortly after setting up her business. Within an hour of the page going live, it received 500 likes. Within two months, that number had passed 20,000.
Tamimi has also attracted attention beyond Jordan, including an offer from Lebanon to host a TV cooking show. But she intends to stay in Jordan for the time being and continue to build her business. In the future, she hopes to open up a restaurant based on her “spiritual” cuisine, which is inspired by an Indian philosophy that believes in restoring bodily and spiritual health through eating the right types of food.
(Tamimi is now a chef on Jordan’s Roya TV)
Founders: Maha Kalis, Faridon Abida, Maen Maknay
Sweets include: Cakes, cookies, truffles, cake loaves, cheesecakes, energy bites.
Maha Kalis admits that there’s no shortage of sweet makers in Jordan. But with her company, Marmalade, which she set up late last year with her friends Faridon Abida and Maen Maknay, she’s been dreaming up intriguing twists on classic recipes, like beetroot chocolate cake, and Earl Grey blueberry loaf. “I’m trying to do different things,” she explained.
Kalis worked as a graphic designer for the best part of a decade before deciding to shift her career in a more culinary direction with Marmalade. It was the right move to make, considering just how long she had enjoyed cooking. “I loved baking when I was a kid. I loved sweets and I loved the kitchen,” she said. She now works as the full-time baker for Marmalade, researching her recipes and coming up with creations that stand out from the sweets made by other local bakeries.
While Marmalade sells its cocoa energy bites in Abdoun’s Seed café, most of its other sweets are picked up by customers from the team’s apartment-based bakery or are delivered for a small fee. Kalis explained that it was a challenge to start up Marmalade at the beginning. “We went shopping for about three months; buying ingredients and equipment such as the freezer and fridge. It was tough.”
But the work has been paying off with the business picking up as new customers hear about their sweets via Facebook, Instagram, and word of mouth. Kalis and her business partners have been surprised by their success so far. “It’s been more than I expected. Especially at Christmas time, it was crazy,” she said.
She explained that it has been her dream to open a café or a bakery for a long time. But when asked why she chose to start from her home kitchen and then shift to a workshop, she notes the advantages of starting small as opposed to opening a shop. “You have to build the name, build your business, and learn how to do things first. I think it’s a process,” she said. ”Slowly, slowly things will grow.”