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Lebanonwire, October 3, 2003

The Daily Star

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Crepaway founder reflects on 19 years of success
‘For me, this company is everything’

Habib Battah
Daily Star staff

Charles Thoumy remembers business in the early days. The cramped shipping container in Kaslik; the war-time sandbags he stacked to save his establishment; and mom’s kitchen, where the now famous crepe recipe was inspired.
“It was originally my brother’s idea,” said Thoumy, part owner of Crepaway ­ Lebanon’s fastest-growing food chain, which recently expanded into multi-million dollar franchises across the region.
“When my brother returned from university in the US, he said: ‘Let’s do something. Let’s start a small crepe restaurant,” Thoumy recalled.
Perfected by their mother, and encouraged by the fact that “her crepe was the rage among friends,” the two college-aged brothers decided to commercialize their home product. They invested some $5,000 in cooking equipment and a used shipping container in 1984, when bloody civil strife was in full swing.
“During the war you had to do something, you couldn’t just stay in the house. You had to make money, you had to do something just … to live.”
With friends huddled inside the teetering container-turned-kitchen, things suddenly looked bright to the young entrepreneurs, despite the surrounding chaos.
“It was really great, we were like a small community. We were all friends and we all made crepes,” he said.
According to Thoumy, the concept took off because crepes were a relative novelty at the time. And with no real dining room, the name “Crepe-away” was born.
The young entrepreneurs managed to save enough to open a “real restaurant” a year later in Maameltein. And despite the continuing war, they branched out and expanded into new outlets in Achrafieh and Broummana.
Today Crepaway employs some 300 workers, owns 12 locations in Lebanon, and operates large franchises in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Future locations in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar are expected to open in about a year, Thoumy said, adding that European expansion is also very likely.
“Crepaway is, was and always will be our baby. For me, the company is everything.”
“Aspiring young entrepreneurs should set achievable goals, not shy away from 16 hour work days. They should also place strong emphasis on staff retention,” he said. “We really try to keep up good relations with our employees. We don’t just sit back in our offices and act like big bosses. We go out on the floor and initiate the spirit of teamwork.”
Employees can purchase stock in the company, and many have stayed with Crepaway since the 1980s, he added.
“If you want success in your business, then you really have to live in your business. You have to feel with it and give it all you’ve got, because business is not easy, and success is not a lottery ticket.”
Also a professor of marketing at Universite Saint Joseph, Thoumy constantly preaches about the endless opportunities available in Lebanon, urging his students to have confidence in their country.
“Anyone who starts a new business should first place trust in his country; second, they should be serious ­ avoid short-term goals just to make a quick buck, and really love their country, and work here for the long term.
“There are so many opportunities in Lebanon,” he added. “Everything in Lebanon is an opportunity. The food industry, the technology sector: Everyone has a chance if they work properly and correctly, and love their work.”
Crepaway aims to open a franchise in every Arab country, and even in some European cities, but the focus will always be on Lebanon, he said.
“We are proud to be Lebanese and we don’t ever want to move our offices abroad. We had many opportunities to do so during the war, but we stayed because our country needs all of us to survive.”
Reflecting on 19 years of Crepaway’s history, Thoumy’s only regret involves what the local restaurant sector might have been without the war.
“It was really a stupid war, nobody wanted it and nobody knows why we had the war. Lebanese like to go out, have fun and eat, drink and live.”

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