To cook up a new business, start with a solid idea, add a desirable product and big scoop of elbow grease. This recipe worked for Hisham Hawat, whose company Taybat Sweets has sped from one sweet success to another since the first shop opened in 2017. It now thrives with an online shop and second location.
It was a steep climb: Hisham, born near the Syrian capital of Damascus, had to seek asylum in Austria in 2014. Then 25, he was conscripted but chose to leave his family and not fight in the civil war. With a degree in economics, he was eager to learn German in order to restart his career. By 2017, he had become an assistant at the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
His entrepreneurial instincts led him to see the opportunity in a growing population from Syria and the Middle East but the challenge was establishing a positive identity. His partner Hamza recalled: “Hisham told me, Austrians associate my country with war. I want to show our rich culture; I want to do something to rebuild their idea of Syria.”
A sure path to the heart is through the stomach, and Hisham quickly landed on Syrian sweets. Most Viennese only know baklava in the Turkish style, Hisham said, and he wanted to see if there was a market for less-sweet treats. He would sell top-notch confections with less sugar, more honey, rich spices, and no artificial colors or genetically modified ingredients – a combination for millennial sensibilities.
It worked: Tender, semolina-based harissa, rich and crunchy kunefe and flaky, filled phyllo warbat are big hits in Vienna, as are buttery, stuffed maamoul and crisp baklava loaded with pistachios and other nuts.
From Dream to Reality
But navigating the unfamiliar tax system and bureaucracy was daunting. Enter the Vienna Business Agency (VBA), which helps entrepreneurs find their feet. Hisham availed himself of their coaching and workshops, and signed up for courses they recommended. As he soaked up skills and advice, his plans came together and he was able to raise enough funding.
Taybat Sweets opened its doors in August 2017, then a one-man-show importing the goodies from Syrian vendors. Hisham remembers 14-hour days and classic startup misfires, like the product not appealing to local palettes. “I wanted to quit 100 times,” he says today. After handling out countless free samples, word of the shop in Ottakring began to spread.
Finally, his story was picked up by a local weekly, with other newspapers and TV soon following suit. With coverage came customers, and Hisham sharpened his sense of what sells to whom – today, a third of his customers are Austrian. Before long, expansion was in order, and his friend Hamza Imran partnered up to join the fray.
The pair met volunteering as translators for Arabic-speaking refugees in 2016. The son of Egyptian immigrants, Hamza was born and raised in Favoriten, studied entrepreneurship and was working for a big company when he got Hisham’s call. He leapt at the opportunity.
Growing the Brand
Big steps followed. First, they moved production in-house to guarantee quality. A local Syrian (also a refugee) bakes all their fresh wares, while a facility in Turkey, also staffed by Syrian refugees, produces cookies and baklava to specs: The name “Taybat” means both delicious and wholesome, an ambition the business seeks to embody in its sweets. The brand was re-vamped, and an online shop established, shipping treats across Europe in pretty tins.
Throughout the process, VBA advisors were just a phone call away, fielding questions and dispensing advice. “The Vienna Business Agency was the key,” Hisham said. “Their door was always open, and they always responded immediately.” Other entrepreneurs unfamiliar with the Austrian scene should also use such opportunities to get advice, Hisham said, lest they misjudge the market or get stuck with tax surprises. That said: “Don’t be afraid to start businesses—just do it,” Hamza said. “We need big ideas.”
The big idea behind Taybat Sweets has paid off. These days, the shop employs five people, all asylum seekers from Syria and the team is growing. In late May, a second shop opened on Viktor-Adler-Platz 12 in Vienna’s 10th district. Stop by for a taste of baked goods, candied nuts and freshly-ground Syrian-style coffee.
Ready for a taste?
16., Thaliastraße 66
10., Viktor-Adler-Platz 12
Order catering or shop online at: taybat.eu
This post is an advertorial in cooperation with the Vienna Business Agency.
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