Home Away From Home: A Lesson In Building Business

Read Valerie’s article about the opening of Café Damascus, from season 2 of ‘Talking on the Job.’
Talking on the Job Home Away From Home article represented by a cup of tea with the logo of the podcast in the corner.

This article is written from by fictional journalist Valerie Dupont. If you want to hear more about how Mira built her business, and learn some English that’s useful for any kind of work you do, check out Babbel’s audio series Talking on the Job season 2. Available now in the Babbel app or on your favorite podcast platform.

From the outside, Café Damascus — or Ahwouit Dimachk in Arabic — looks like an inviting place to spend an afternoon drinking coffee and reading a book or chatting with friends. On the inside, its high ceilings, elegant arched door frames and complex tile mosaics hint at the origin story of its owner, Mira Haddad. I sat down with Mira at the grand opening of her café, where she told me about her backstory and some of the challenges she faced while trying to build her business. 

Listen to Mira’s story in her own words (and learn some Business English too!) on the Babbel app, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Mira was born in Damascus, Syria. After university, she started her career as a social worker, supporting children and their families in schools and hospitals throughout Damascus. But in 2015, Mira, like many others, was forced to leave the country. She fled to Germany, where she applied for asylum. During the long, difficult process of relocating and settling in a new country, Mira looked for ways to support her community. She searched for a job as a social worker, but in spite of her experience, her excellent language skills and years of training, she was unable to find a suitable position.

After years of persevering through job applications, networking events, and navigating bureaucracy, Mira became a permanent resident. This, she said, changed everything: “I could finally get the loans I needed to open my own business, something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time. And, I decided to take a different approach to supporting my community. My own approach.”

Her “own approach” was to build a café named after her hometown that could be “a home away from home, for myself and for others.” That’s exactly what she did. 

First, Mira found a location and developed plans with an architect, then she hired a contractor. Initially, there were some misunderstandings about her instructions for the build out. And Mira had to clear those up. Then, after discovering that there were problems with the electrical system in the walls, some of the mosaics that were created and installed by hand had to be torn down. It was a situation Mira described as “a big mess.” And, she said, at times, she and the contractor had “different priorities.” Consequently, she found herself often arguing and negotiating with him in order to keep the construction on track.

Meanwhile, some friends connected Mira with a coffee vendor. They had to overcome some communication problems, but eventually they found a way to work together. Mira was able to source organic coffee, grown by independent coffee farmers in Brazil, and locally roasted. As a result, Café Damascus offers delicious, traditional Syrian coffee, just like the coffee Mira remembers from her hometown.

Through all of the complications with financing, delays in construction and issues installing equipment, Mira persisted, overcoming the challenges that face many new business owners. And she managed to achieve this all in English, which isn’t her first language. She also hired a new employee and collaborated with an event planner to organize the grand opening party. In the end, she built exactly what she wanted: “a place where I can create community… for other people and for myself.” But this is just the beginning.

When I spoke to her at the grand opening, Mira described her outlook as “pretty optimistic.” But based on the excellent turnout for the event, the enchanting atmosphere and the dedication of its owner, I’m sure that Café Damascus will be a success. Stop by to enjoy a hot cup of coffee with cardamom in the café’s beautiful interior or on the lush garden patio, and maybe you, too, will be lucky enough to meet Mira and hear her stories. 

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