Arab success story in the restaurant business...Sami Ladeki .. Man of Ideas not Figures

San Diego (California) – Abdul Rahman Bitar Lebanese immigrants are successful wherever they go in this world, but what is the secret? Wherever you move in San Diego, the beautiful coastal city overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Western part of the United States you will find a branch to a restaurant called “ Sammy’s” where clients are competing to get in.If you ask those who know about the commercial scene and restaurant business, they will tell you that Sami Ladeki (or Lazeki), the self-made businessman coming from Beirut is the founder and investor in a number of hotels and restaurants in California

Sami Ladeki
Sami Ladeki
Sami’s success did not come through easily or as an outcome of a strike of luck. The successful businessman who won wealth and prestige today was fond of hospitality and delicious food since his childhood , and his motto nowadays is “ eat well so that you feel happy ”. That explains why he left Lebanon to Germany to study hotel and restaurant management in a specialized institute near Munich. After graduation, he moved to London and worked for a year at the Westbury Hotel, then he was selected by Sonseta company to run the Sonseta Hotel in New Orleans, after which he moved to the famous Peninsula Hotel in Bermuda island in the Carrebean.
Sami Ladeki, who introduces himself as “ the man of ideas not figures “, started the first restaurant he owned and managed in Houston, Texas in 1983 and called it after a well known restaurant and night club in the fifties in both Paris and Beirut “ Cave de Roi” . The triumph of this endeavour in the American oil city was a ‘master’s stroke’, but what has really changed his fortunes was falling in love with the city of San Diego in California State especially its attractive suburb, La Jolla ( or: the jewel in Spanish) close to the Mexican borders. He started there the first restaurant after his name in 1989 and called it “ Sammy’s woodfired pizza “. His creative idea at the time was to solve young people problem and their desire to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a good restaurant with reasonable price, unlike the costly French restaurants, enjoying a youthful atmosphere and Italian dishes such as pizza, pasta and salads as well as some exotic dishes that appeal to American taste like humus bi tahiné, taboulé or Thai style shrimps.. The particular recipes and the whole original menu became the basis of instant success and the chain became a local favorite, and now “Sammy’s “ has 15 branches in different locations in California, Nevada and Arizona. The “ hospitality specialist” , moreover, gave a franchise to two similar restaurants in Tokyo, and is thinking at the moment to expand his activities in the Arab countries of the Gulf.
Sami Ladeki also owns several other high-class restaurants, some of which such as ‘Ropongi’ offer an amazing Asian-European fusion cuisine, and some luxurious hotels that cater to Hollywood movie stars visiting San Diego for fun and relaxation or making new films. The total sale of Ladeki’s chain enterprises last year was estimated at $ 68 million where a staff of one thousand work. He himself is considered in San Diego a celebrity because he started his gourmet pizza and upscale eateries that were transformed in a big chain spread in California ( La Jolla, Carlsbad, Scripps Ranch), Nevada ( specially Las Vegas) and the desert state Arizona. It is indeed a great victory for a young man who began his professional life washing plates in Germany so that he can master all details in the restaurant management.
The success story of immigrants of Lebanese origin in the US is well known. Among the illustrious names we find John Mac, actual head of the investment bank Morgan Stanley Ray Irani, president of Occidental Oil in Los Angeles, and Jack Nasr, ex boss of Ford Motors Company. Needless to mention the late surgeon Dr. Michael Dabghi, the artist Danny Thomas, politicians such as Donna Shallala, Daryl Issa, and John Sununu, the fashion stylist Joseph Abboud, the scientist Ghassan Antar, the academician Amin Barakat, and of course the great literary figure Jubran Khalil Jubran and ten others.

In a special interview with Sami Ladeki at his firm’s headquarters in the charming sophisticated La Jolla suburb and particularly Pearl Strret that attracted him to this location some twenty years ago where you can watch the sea with whales crossing the Pacific Ocean in the spring, Ladeki spoke frankly without inhibition about the secret of the trade “ many people like starting restaurants but the matter is not a hobby or a caprice ; it is a profession and an industry requiring study and preparation otherwise the attempt will fail after a few months or years “. He added, “ I constantly monitor the work of my managers to know what is going on because not each one can run the business the way he likes according to his method ; when a company becomes big we have to follow a system that applies to everyone “. He continued saying “ what frightens me is failure because I have seen in my lifetime a number of good restaurants that collapsed after their standards began to deteriorate”. It is clear from Ladeki’s confidence about what he says that he is quite capable of managing his business and at the same time ready for changes and adjustments to suit the taste of clients , their mentalities and modifications in the food fashion. That explains why he watches over the menu personally and what it contains. Recently he added a dish of hummus decorated with top quality fried chopped meat and pine nuts ; a new dish in America but well known in the eastern part of the Middle East and very much appreciated by his clients when introduced a few months ago.
One of the major food industry companies predicts that Ladeki will expand his activities in Las Vegas, being a tourist city visited by people from all around the world, thus a dinning retreat with reasonable prices has a bright future. The man with innovative ideas is pondering expansion but does not like to join with partners since he prefers to rely on himself. He says “ the best partner is the bank, for the reason that it studies my projects and finances them and does not ask too many questions , because I present profitable good projects and is not interested in transferring my gains to real estate and land endowments but prefer putting my investments in kitchens”.

Wednesday, December 9th 2009
Abdul Rahman Bitar

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