37 years old Laith Smadi was an employee at a small desserts shop in a small town in Ajloun governorate. Through the project “Promoting Local Economic Development in Jordan” (PLEDJ) in Ajloun which is funded by the European Delegation to Jordan, he received a small grant for his eco-friendly business idea. With the grant, he managed to run Ajloun Forest Reserve Restaurant alone buying one knife at a time.
I used to make 200 JDs as an employee, I’m now the chef and manager of two major restaurants in my home town of Ajloun thanks to the grant from the EU
A Leap of Determination
“I used to make 200 JDs as an employee, I’m now the chef and manager of two major restaurants in my home town of Ajloun thanks to the grant from the EU” says Laith who has experienced a great change in his income and saw that change reflected on his family as it helped him by saying that “it feels great to be able to provide a better life for my wife and kids”.
With determination, years of experience in food production and a newly acquired knowledge in project management, finance and latest tips and tricks in the kitchen thanks to a series of training workshops preluding the implementation of his business project; Laith’s kitchen now contains cooking equipment worth tens of thousands of Jordanian dinars.
Though he has a vast experience participating in events held by major hotels in Amman and the Dead Sea, he admits that he “knew nothing about management or finance before.” What he learned was very useful in managing his restaurant.
By using the EU grant to start his own business, he became responsible for operations, management and marketing in addition to being the chef. Laith became more confident, “I didn’t know how to even talk about myself before, now I’m comfortable speaking in public and managing the employees” he says.
Thriving hand in hand
Laith has recently set up a new beautiful restaurant at the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation in Ajloun growing his staff members from the local community to twenty men and women, many of them couldn’t find a job before either due to lack of job opportunities or because of the conservative nature of the society which limits women’s choices when trying to find a job. He has “trained some of the staff for a while and now they are very good at what they do”.
He is very proud of his women colleagues who challenged social norms and proved themselves equal to men at work. One of those strong women started as a steward and became the assistant chef, supervising all staff members who are majorly men.
When it comes to food, Laith has several agreements with providers from the local community. The two restaurants are “fully dependent on the local produce”. “I hand-pick the items myself most of the time to ensure high quality” he adds.
The two restaurants follow Ajloun’s Natural Reserve environmental and eco-tourism standards and regulations and are model sustainable environment-friendly businesses that can be replicated by other entrepreneurs in Jordan and the region.
The Way Forward
Laith’s dream is to “open a series of restaurants in Ajloun and Amman”, which will surely serve his local community as well as the neighboring areas in terms of employment opportunities and attracting tourists from inside of Jordan as well as outside.
It is worthy of mention that the program “Promoting Local Economic Development in Jordan” (PLEDJ) is funded by the European Delegation to Jordan managed by the Ministry of Interior and implemented by UNDP. It aims at fostering two sectors in the governorates of Ajloun and Tafileh: Small-Scale Food Processing and Tourism Services.