Interview with Karim Audi and Karim Bechara
Nicolas Audi is an architect and an artist, but most of all he is a cook. Known for his adventurous cuisine for over 30 years now, Nicolas only recently founded his own official catering business in a small kitchen in Rabieh, Lebanon in 2008. Together with his right-hand man, Karim Bechara, he began to cook up a great reputation. Today the catering company is not only in great demand, but has also welcomed the second generation of Audis. Nicolas’ children, Bechara, Nayla, and Karim, joined the firm a few years ago and have helped expand it to the catering, consulting, and restaurant business it is today.
Tharawat magazine spoke to both Karim Audi and Karim Bechara about what the next generation has to offer the business, why Friday night dinners with the family are sacred, and how you should treat the non-family members of the business.
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Why did you join the family business?
KA: It was a hard decision. In the end it’s your family and it’s your business. My siblings and I see it as our legacy and it makes sense to take care of it. I am doing my own thing, which is much nicer than being an employee in a multinational.
KB: The family had to change their attitudes towards one another once they started working together, which wasn’t easy. It is far easier to work with strangers than to work with family.
KA: You have to put aside family differences. It’s hard to put aside the family roles and perceptions we have of each other. I now have to make sure my family sees me as an employee and a professional in the company.
What changed when the second generation of Audis joined the business?
KB: This business started as a one-man-show with Nicolas Audi. I was worried that there would be many opinions to deal with when the children came in, and a lot of protocol would then need to be set up. But when they joined, I felt that Karim, Bechara and Nayla respected the organisational hierarchy and acted like good employees.
It is not easy to work as an outsider in a family business, but both Audi generations have been great to work with and have involved me in their decision-making.
What is the added value the next generation has brought to the business?
KA: Young people can bring innovation to the company. My father, for example, has less knowledge about social media. It is rather necessary nowadays as we can target a bigger market through it. We possess the skills to make this happen, which is useful to him.
My father is more of an artist – he likes being in the kitchen and creating new recipes. So when we joined the company, he handed over all the aspects of the job he finds annoying! (laughs)
What is especially nice is that each of us contributes their individual skills to the business. My sister is innovating our pastries. She is originally an architect, like my father, and has a strong artistic sense. My brother works in the kitchen with my father and loves to experiment with new recipes. I am on the business management end. We are all working together, with the help of Karim, to try and continue what my father started. We will try to make it last.
Did your relationships with your family change once you started working together in the business?
KA: I did experience some moments of tension with my brother and sister. It is normal. My relationship with my brother became more professional. We talk about work a lot. My sister is always kind and sweet. It is easy to talk to her about anything.
KB: When there is tension between the brothers, I sometimes interfere as a moderator. But conflict is not always a bad thing.
KA: No, in fact, it’s good.
KB: It can help generate new ideas and you carry on more peacefully afterward. These are positive conflicts.
Do you feel like an entrepreneur in your family business?
KA: My job is to assist my father and help him with the business plans and strategy – basically all the things he doesn’t like to do. I tell him what I think should be done, but ultimately, he is the one who decides. We have to think of where we’re going to be in five to six years. So yes, I do feel like an entrepreneur. At the beginning I felt like the son of the owner, but after a few years, my mentality changed. I now see myself as an entrepreneur and my relationship with my father is more professional than before.
How does the family communicate in and around the business?
KA: I live on my own, as do my sister and brother. Once a week we meet at my parents’ for dinner, but we are not allowed to talk about work because it drives my mother crazy! (laughs) At work the mood changes and we try to keep the meetings professional.
How many other people work with you?
KB: In 2008, we began with three chefs. Now we are running a kitchen of 35 – it’s a huge number. We experienced fast growth in 8 years. Lebanese clientele are demanding – they are used to all kinds of cuisines – but Nicolas Audi has always been innovative and he knows the new trends. In fact he is often a trendsetter. He has been in the market for 30 years. He has the name to make change and has become a reference.
KA: He is an innovator. We follow the market and lead it at the same time.
His name is that influential?
KB: The name Nicolas is our main competitive advantage. When we started out we were worried how people would react to the fact we established the company in Rabieh and not Beirut, where we were expected to open. Advertisement through word of mouth was extraordinary!
KA: I love to hear the stories of how it all began, even before Nicolas Audi Catering opened. My father’s friends tell me about meals he cooked for them years ago – they still remember the experience! It is always a pleasure to hear that. My father is reserved so he doesn’t tell us all his stories. He is also a perfectionist. If he doesn’t get the results he wants, he gets mad.
With such a brand to live up to, what do you do to preserve quality?
KA: Let’s say it’s a good thing that there are three of us! We are doing everything we can to preserve what our father has created. I feel the pressure of being up to task. We are sometimes so impressed by him! We try to learn as much as we can from him and have Karim to help us.
KB: This is the attitude that makes it so easy for me to work with the Audi family – I don’t feel like an outsider. This is rare in family businesses. They treat me as if I was one of the owners, which makes me want to contribute with the same passion of a family member.
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 25, 2015