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  • Priscilla and Najee Khouzame at the family catering business. (SBS)Source: SBS
Inspired by their parents who migrated from Lebanon, a brother and sister team opened Bayti restaurant, which was enthusiastically welcomed by the multicultural community in Sydney’s west. Then coronavirus struck.
By
Sandra Fulloon

12 Jun - 10:08 AM 

With its traditional Lebanese offerings, based on recipes not commonly found in Australia, Bayti restaurant which means ‘my home’ in Arabic, is in the multicultural hub of Parramatta.  

It’s run by brother and sister Najee and Priscilla Khouzame, an extension of the family catering business founded 35 years ago by mother Julie and father George Khouzame, who has since died.

“Mum and dad were migrants, they both came from Lebanon,” Najee Khouzame explained.

“Dad came out to Australia during the civil war in the 1970s. And mum in around the 1960s. Together they established the George Khouzame brand in hospitality.”

Just prior to Christmas last year, the siblings fulfilled a long-cherished plan to open the restaurant, celebrating their heritage. Local residents including the Middle Eastern community quickly embraced the new business.

“Well the restaurant was based on our culture and we're very proud of that,” Najee Khouzame told Small Business Secrets.

“Bayti restaurant opened on December first, on the anniversary of my father's birthday, to celebrate his legacy and his contribution to the Lebanese hospitality.

“And we had a great start, right in that Christmas rush.”

However, in March coronavirus restrictions forced the venue to close. For several months its dining room, which seats 100 guests and the private dining area which seats 26, stood empty.

 

“So what we did as soon as we closed down, we cut down all the overheads. We turned our fridges off, our gas, electricity, everything was switched off,” Mr Khouzame said.

“Last month our gas bill was $10.

“We cut down our supplies, we probably had $100,000 outstanding with suppliers, and we didn’t pay rent. We negotiated with [the landlords] and there was no pressure, they wanted us to re-open.”

Like thousands of other small businesses, Bayti has survived the pandemic by pivoting to take away.

“We had never have thought of doing takeaway before, but now it's become a new business,” he said.

And the support of the local community was key to their survival.

“The community literally got on board and started ordering online and doing home deliveries. And if we can't deliver it to them because all the drivers are booked out, then they'll say ‘OK, we're going to come in and we'll pick it up’.”

But the economic hit was massive.

“It cost over half a million dollars to fit [the restaurant] out and, since we were only open from December to March, we haven't [seen a return on our investment],” Najee Khouzame added.

“Obviously we're not looking to make a profit at this point. We're just looking to get through and keep people in jobs,” operations manager Harry Bean added.

As the coronavirus restrictions have eased, the business has gradually re-opened and can now seat up to 50 people within very specific NSW government guidelines. To meet the local demand, they’ve opened on extra days and have re-hired staff.

“If it wasn't for the support of our Parramatta community we wouldn't be where we are today,” Priscilla Khouzame said with relief.

Bayti serves meals based on sharing, laid out like a family Sunday lunch.

“You don't have to order from a stereotypical menu,” explained Harry Bean.

“You sit down and relax, and the food starts coming out. So it’s best to enjoy it over about two or three hours.”