From Corporate To Entrepreneurship

Interview with Ziyad Ayass, Founder and Managing Partner of Ka’ak Al Manara

Q: Starting your career in consulting and financing with PriceWaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) Hospitality & Real Estate Development, was it always your dream to own your own restaurant?

A: Some of my earliest childhood memories were of dreaming to open a restaurant serving my mom’s delicious home cooked food. I also recall particularly admiring my neighbor’s father who owned one of the most successful French pastries chain in Lebanon. Finally, some of my favorite memories growing up in the Al Manara district of Beirut were of munching on ka’aks purchased from the famed street vendors of the area after long school days. My decision to leave the corporate world was initially to command my own life. Soon after that, the universe led me in the direction of a Ka’ak business first, which over the years developed into a bakery & café that serves world class ka’ak, bakery & breakfast items, home cooked dishes & a wide variety of desserts including French pastries. All this was not of an initial conscious design, but one that I believe I developed out of an unconscious nostalgia for my youth in Lebanon.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for Ka’ak Al Manara?

A: The inspiration for Ka’ak Al Manara came to me during a sleepless night in my late 20’s when my rumbling stomach led me to explore the contents of my near empty fridge (the typical state of my fridge as a bachelor!). All I found was some rusk bread and picon cheese in the fridge, and as I got to spread the cheese spread on the cracker, a question hit me like a ton of bricks. Why had no one exported the concept of ka’ak successfully to the UAE or anywhere beyond Lebanon? As far as I was concerned, ka’ak was more interesting, tastier, and had a richer back story than its much more globally popular cousin the manoushe, but for some reason I had never seen it in any other country outside of Lebanon! Ka’ak is a tremendously popular snack back home & I estimated that there was a great opportunity to capitalize on this gap in the UAE & beyond. And so, my vision to develop the world’s leading ka’ak chain began in earnest, and 1 month later I was selling ka’aks at the ripe markets at Zabeel Park in Dubai, and the rest is history. The concept has obviously developed into a full-fledged Lebanese bakery, café, eatery & patisserie since then, but at our core, our vision to take ka’ak global is still our driving motivation.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome along your journey?

A: The biggest challenge I believe any early-stage entrepreneur will face is his or her lack of experience in the art and science of business and the resulting constant self-questioning that results from it. Most early-stage entrepreneurs over rely on trial & error or on their past corporate experience. While these are all good & fine, my advice would be to combine these efforts with a commitment to educating themselves in the art of business alongside that work. They may do that by setting up regular formal mentorship sessions with entrepreneurs who are successful in your field, hiring a business coach, or by committing to a curriculum of the best business content & books authored by successful businesspeople (not textbooks at universities!). Sure, there were dozens of challenges that seemed like make-or-break moments along the journey, but the single largest challenge & opportunity in the early days was my ignorance towards the art of business and leadership.

Q: What is your proudest achievement in your entrepreneurial career?

A: My most proud achievement has to be in the work we’ve put in through the years to develop & fine tune Ka’ak Al Manara into the novel & hip brand it stands for today. I think this has been key to the awards we’ve won over the years, including being awarded Dubai’s Hidden Gem Award in 2017 by Dubai Tourism and voted the #1 Middle Eastern Restaurant by Deliveroo in 2022. More importantly, I think it’s been the power of our brand & the desire of the community at large to associate with it that has given us the privilege to be invited into thousands of homes, including the homes of leading media & influencer personalities, through our catering & delivery services. It brings great pride whenever I hear new people, I meet talk so fondly about our brand. Brand success, above all else in my opinion, determines a business’s prospects for longevity.

Q: In today’s fast-paced changing business environment, how do you keep on top of current trends and ever-increasing competition?

A: The best way to stay up to date, is to continue putting in the workday in & day out, educating yourself along the way. This will continuously fine tune your business sense and give you the confidence you will need in your day to day and longer-term business decision making.

Q: How has entrepreneurship changed your life?

A: The mindset and lifestyle you need to develop to become a successful entrepreneur is in itself lifestyle. I liken entrepreneurship to professional sport in that you need to stay disciplined in taking care of your mind and body so you can show up as the best version of yourself day in and day out to lead & succeed. My desire to succeed in business has brought the best out of me in all areas of my life.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

A: Leadership is the mastery of mind, body & self-such that one may show up as the best version of themselves, develop clearer & more insightful vision, and take on all challenges & decisions in the most efficient and effective manner in order to serve their family, colleagues, business stakeholders & the community and world at large.

Q: Who/what inspires your both professionally and personally to develop and grow your business?

A: I am inspired professionally & personally to develop & grow by business by my determination to master my own mind & my time on this earth and to continue explore my potential. Those that inspire me and help me along the way are business & self-development authors & online personalities I’ve relied on over years including Tim Ferriss, Gary Vee, Wayne Dier, Napolean Hill, Grant Cordone and Anthony Robbins amongst many others. For the benefit of readers in case they are interested, some of the most useful business and self-development books that have fine-tuned my business and leadership sense include The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, Traction by Gino Wickman, Think & Grow Rich as well as Outwitting the Devil both by Napolean Hill, the New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, the 10X rule by Grant Cordone, How to Win Friends & Influencer People by Dale Carnegie, Good to Great by Jim Collins and the Ultimate sales Machine by Chet Holmes.

Q: Do you have any plans to expand the business?

A: Yes of course. Our vision is to become the world’s #1 choice for ka’ak and so much more through our award-winning Bakery, Café, Eatery, Patisserie & Retail Boutique offering, and our work has only got started.