Meet the Power Couple Behind Egypt’s First Health Food Store With an All-Natural Menu
We’ve all heard of the saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman”, or my personal favorite, “Behind every successful woman is herself”. But in the case of the founders of Raw Republic, it’s more like “Behind every successful health food store is a power couple and a couple of powerful blenders.”
Dalia Hashish, an AUC graduate of marketing and communications, and the co-founder of Raw Republic credits her husband, Sherif Abdelghany, an export business owner, as her biggest supporter. He even decided to undergo a 30-day juice cleanse with her when she noticed, while travelling in the US, children were taking smoothies and juices to school.
At the time, both Dalia and Sherif were working in the corporate world. Working long hours and caring for a young family, left them very little time to prepare nutritious food at home. Dining out options were the farthest thing from healthy. So they did something revolutionary. They created healthy beverages that were safe enough for children to drink, replacing the sugar- and concentrate- heavy juices children often take to school with them. That was key to the whole operation. It had to be accessible for the whole family.
They started off modestly enough with a small booth at an annual fitness event called EIFIT, offering only six juices. But what set them apart was not what they included in their juices. Rather it was what they opted to leave out. Fresh produce was non-negotiable. But so was the conscious omission of chemicals, preservatives, concentrates, and sugar from their list of ingredients. If water was added, only mineral water was used, and only sparingly.
The blended concoctions are not your everyday, run-of the-mill mango juice or orange juice. More exotic ingredients were added such as spinach, beets, ginger, making Raw Republic the first health food store in Egypt to jump on the “green smoothie” bandwagon.
Now Egypt is agriculturally blessed. Endowed with fertile land, and given the right soil and climatic conditions, you can grow almost anything. So a health store offering fresh juices and smoothies is perfectly positioned to benefit local farmers. Raw Republic uses mostly local produce and even exported produce (mostly through Sherif’s export company) are subject to strict quality control, differentiating them from others in the market.
But Dalia and Sherif were diligent about more than just the freshness of their ingredients. They employed a very useful yet simple strategy to test out their creations: a focus group comprised of the general public, the people they wished to eventually sell to. By giving people samples of their juices and smoothies, and eventually telling them what the components were, they were able to gauge the taste preferences of their potential customer base.
However, they didn’t want their products to be seen as just a passing fad. Or accessible only to gym rats and organically-obsessed vegans. They were conscious about the quality of their products and customer service because they wanted to spearhead the “green smoothie” revolution in Egypt and create a counter-culture where it was common to see children taking green smoothies to school. For one, everything was prepared in front of the customer: no under the counter or back-kitchen additions. The customer got what they paid for. Also, taste was of paramount importance. They knew that to sell “healthy” to their Egyptian demographic, a generation that grew up on store bought juices and candy, they had to make it taste good. Make it worth their while. “We weren’t hardcore but we wanted to do things that tasted really good so that people would be surprised.” Dalia says. They weren’t just selling juices, they were selling awareness of the health benefits from these juices as well.
But as with any private business in Egypt, there was a steep learning curve. People may have been sold on their juices since they started in December 2013, but as Dalia pointed out “…you might have a very good product but there are many other variables to make the business successful.” Location is one of them. Initially, starting off inside gyms and other venues, they expanded into more independent locations that eventually proved unviable for the business. Finally, they settled on 5 prime locations, having scaled down from 8.
Another challenge was putting together the right team, in terms of employees and staff. The people you hire to sell your product could literally make or break a business. After a period of adjustment, and making some necessary mistakes, Dalia and Sherif now have the right locations and a team that is professional, committed and as passionate about the brand as they are.
But perhaps one of the greatest obstacles that Dalia and Sherif had to overcome was balancing their personal and professional lives. Everyone knows that running a business means living it and breathing it, day in and day out. It permeates every aspect of your life, at least until you break even. And even then, more often than not, you bring it home with you. However, running a business as a married couple comes with its own set of unique challenges. While Sherif concedes that Dalia is the boss and the creative force behind the Raw Republic, she, on the other hand, acknowledges Sherif’s business acumen and know-how. As Dalia puts it, “he is the business mind behind this and I am more of the passion.”
Initially, the couple found it difficult to establish a clear separation between their personal and professional spheres, quite literally as their office was located downstairs from where they live. Dalia reminisces, “At the beginning we didn’t manage to separate our personal marital life from work, it was really hard. We had our fights in office and then we go home together and can’t deal with each other much because we just had a fight.”
However, over time, they learnt, that professionalism at work was necessary and that there had to be a clear distinction between their roles as professional colleagues and business co-owners and their roles as husband and wife, and parents to their two children. And perhaps most importantly, they learnt to leave their work at work.
Raw Republic started off with juices and smoothies but the owners’ long-term vision to transition to a full-fledged health-store with a café-like ambience, where people can come, enjoy a smoothie and read a book came to fruition. Diversifying into other products such as trademarked homemade peanut butter, coconut milk, salads and much more, Raw Republic is indeed an enterprise after our own hearts, proving that anything store-bought and laden with preservatives and other unmentionables, can easily be made at home, or your local health food store, with the right ingredients, a little love, a little patience and one powerful blender.