'RATs, toilet paper and nostalgic treats:' Pilot realises dream is to run a convenience store. This is why

This Palestinean moved to Australia at 17 with dreams of becoming a pilot. When he got up in the air, he realised his dream had changed. He spoke to Dateline about his Instagram famous shop, which regularly makes news headlines.

At the heart of Hazem Sedda’s business - which he calls, “the greatest Redfern convenience store on Earth” - is a deep sense of community.

So when the consumer challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic arose, Hazem put his best foot forward.

From runs on toilet paper to an insufficient supply of rapid antigen tests, Hazem said he has tried to put community over profit when offering goods during the pandemic. He went viral - and not for the first or last time - at the beginning of the pandemic for selling one pack of toilet paper for $3.50 and the second for $99 as a joke to deter panic buying.

“Also, I did give some away for free for those in the area that needed it,” he said.

During lockdowns, Hazem shifted to online orders, particularly for the nostalgic overseas candies and junk food that he is known well known for selling. Hazem was shipping treats all over Australia in an attempt to help people’s morale during the lockdowns, striving to get items shipped as soon as possible.

The latest COVID-19 venture has been procuring RATs for locals and beyond, updating his viral Instagram when a new shipment arrives. Again, he has made headlines.

Weathering COVID-19 has been the latest challenge for Hazem who grew up in a small Palestinean village and arrived in Australia when he was 17, more than 20-years ago.

“In Palestine, we knew all the people in the village and we said hi to all of them, every day. We know them all by name,” he said.

“When I came here I didn't know anyone. So I started getting to know the people who came to the shop, learning their name, so they don’t just buy something and leave.”

It was those first years in the shop, learning English and getting to know the community, that made Hazem fall in love with Sydney's inner suburb Redfern and running a small business.

Hazem didn't always imagine himself running a small business in Redfern. When he was a kid in Palestine he dreamed of becoming a pilot.

“It's something that we used to see on the TV in Palestine, we never used to see aeroplanes and we never used to see airports because we didn't have any.”

“We never used to say ‘flying aeroplane’ we used to say ‘driving aeroplane’.”

Hazem Sedda's father
Hazem Sedda's father opened the store in 2001. Source: Supplied

Forging the path for his eldest son to study aviation was one of the reasons Hazem’s father moved to Australia. He worked in construction, but the qualifications didn’t transfer. So, with limited English in the year 2000, he bought a convenience store in Redfern.

Just over two years later, armed with a sense of duty to help his family, Hazem arrived in Australia and began working at the shop, and later dividing his time between working and studying aviation.

Soon enough, Hazem became a qualified pilot.

“With respect to all pilots, of course, I found it really boring,” he said, laughing.

“You sit in a flight cockpit, but it's boring. You're by yourself and there's a very limited number [of people] you could meet. In [the store], you could meet everyone. I could meet pilots in here. I could meet doctors and I could meet people even from the street. So it's much [more] fun, more interesting. I really love it.”

Meeting new people and bringing them joy through imported goods is what brings Hazem joy.

He has a wife and three kids, including a newborn, and balances the time between his shop, family and running social media.

The Instagram page for the shop went viral after Ben Fordham - a close friend he met through the store, who Hazem admits “he didn’t know was famous” until he read an article about his new job a 2GB - helped set up an Instagram account.

After initial scepticism about whether social media would work for the store, he posted a ‘customer of the day’ and began amassing followers.

Now, he has almost 30,000 followers, which has lately been focused on updating the community when rapid antigen tests are in stock.

“It's always important to follow what you feel works for you. It's fine to quit and do what you are happy.”

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4 min read
Published 25 January 2022 at 6:02am
By Emily Jane Smith
Source: SBS