We had the pleasure to interview the couple behind Riyadh’s Oishii Sushi, Chef Khulood Olaqi and Farid Tawfik, banker by day, restaurateur by night.
Chef Khulood, what was your inspiration to become a chef?
I fell in love with cooking when I was 11 years old, and used to help my mom in the kitchen. When I got older, I wanted to do something in my spare time so I had the idea of opening a home-based business. My mother suggested that I start something unique like sushi because we used to make it at home already. I was hesitant at first but then my family and friends really supported me to go through with it.
I used to make their orders in the morning and take it with me to the university in a cooler box. When I got married to Farid in 2013, he was also one of the main reasons why I decided to become a chef.
Farid, what made you jump in and become a restaurateur?
I considered myself a foodie and I’ve been in the F&B sector since I was 18 years old. I used to work in restaurants before; while I was studying in university. At the same time, I always dreamt of having a part-time job; and a second source of income, by running a restaurant.
What’s your work dynamic like?
Khulood: I work mostly in the kitchen and Farid manages the front of the restaurant and takes orders from the customers. He’s a manager and a waiter.
Farid: That’s my main role. We decided that I need to come and support Khulood while she is working at the sushi bar so now we are covering both. Sometimes I’m managing the floor and other times, the bar.
How do you find time for each other and the family with your busy schedules?
Khulood: It’s difficult because we’re still in the beginning and have to give all our effort and time to this. When our relatives want to see us they always visit the restaurant. They know where to find us. For Farid and I, sometimes we only go home to sleep and come back to work. However, even if we get very busy, we always manage to find at least half an hour to spend time together and not talk about the business.
What were the challenges you faced in opening up Oishii Sushi?
Farid: There is a lot to say to be honest. There were a lot of challenges in terms of regulations and all the paperwork involved. The worst part was obtaining our license. It took us around 11 months and we kept paying the rent all this time. After that, we faced the recruitment challenge of getting visas for our staff.
But in the end, it was all worth it and we are three months old now. It’s a soft opening still, but we are happy to say that we try our level best to make sure everyone who comes in leaves the restaurant feeling extremely happy and satisfied. So that’s our success.
Khulood: And we are taking it step by step you know. One of the main things that made me anxious in the beginning was that I wanted everything to be perfect. I realized that I can’t take care of everything. But Alhamdulillah, each day we learn something new and we are enjoying it. We love this place and the team here is like family so it’s not a boring job. I’m taking it as a fun place to go and try out new recipes. This restaurant has enabled me to do what I love and meet our customers especially ones who used to order from us back in 2014 and now come here to the restaurant.
What’s your secret to keeping customers coming in?
Farid: The secret is being here (in the restaurant) and connecting with our customers.
Khulood: And because we pay attention to our customers. We also noticed that many keep coming back because of the welcoming environment and the quality of food.
Also, I have another account on social media; where I blog and post recipes. So, I think, when people living outside Riyadh come here, the first thing they want to do is try this restaurant.
What advice can you give others wanting to start their own restaurant?
The first aspect people should work on is their belief in the business. It’s all about time management regardless of your profession. If you like something, just work on it and you will reach your destination. You will face a lot of challenges but it’s going to pay off in the end.