x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

It's Turk eat Turk in Oman's cut-throat restaurant business

The dreams of many of the Turkish entrepreneurs who came to Oman to try to strike it rich by running restaurants have turned rotten.

MUSCAT // With nearly one in 10 restaurants in Oman being Turkish, competition among proprietors is fierce. This has left many of the Turks who came to the Gulf country with dreams of making it big now laden with debt and facing expensive legal proceedings. One of them is Anver Aiman, 42, from the western Turkish coastal city of Izmir. His dream of owning a chain of Turkish restaurants in Oman fell apart as the competition stiffened.

"I have lost 33,000 rials [Dh 315,000] in business that went bust and owe another 20,000 rials in rents, bills, supply, equipment, wages and now legal fees," Mr Aiman said. "The court says I have two months to pay up and I don't see the prospect of doing it in that time frame." Mr Aiman, who has been working in a friend's cafe for the past three months, came to Muscat six years ago with ?12,000 (Dh63,400) which he saved from his job as an assistant chef in a hotel in Izmir. His friends put him up for a while and even helped him in opening his first restaurant, just three months after his arrival.

"It was a successful first start," Mr Aiman said. "Then I went on to the second restaurant just two years later, and it also went well. I was happy because I was on my way to start a successful chain of restaurants in Oman." It all went terribly wrong with the third one, a year after Mr Aiman opened it. Growing competition from other Turkish restaurants began to take its toll on his business and Mr Aiman soon realised that he had too many costs to cover.

According to the ministry of commerce statistics, there are more than 12,000 restaurants in Oman, about a thousand of which, or nine per cent, are Turkish. Mehmet Ali, 51, another former Turkish restaurant owner, had to rely on his friends to pay his 2,000-rial debt after the closure of his Muscat-based restaurant last year. "I learnt a lesson that it is a cut-throat business running a restaurant here," Mr Ali said. "It is a Turks-eat-Turks situation where we compete with each other. I left Ankara thinking that I would have a competitive edge with my food business experience but I was wrong."

Mr Ali declined to reveal how much money he had lost in his four-year business before it collapsed. But he said that while Turkish businessmen might be ruthless when it came to competition, they also rallied to help compatriots in need. Like Mr Aiman, Mr Ali is now working at a Turkish restaurant to earn a living. Both men said they should not have ignored warnings from fellow countrymen about starting on their own in a faraway country.

"In the 22 years I have been in Oman, I have seen at least 50 of my compatriots going bust," said Adem Yusuf, 62, a restaurateur from Istanbul. Mr Yusuf is one of the Turks who has made it rich in Oman. He now owns seven restaurants with a turnover of 450,000 rials a year and employs 18 compatriots. "They all ignored warnings of veteran Turk businessmen [in Oman] that competition and business overheads are increasing all the time." salshaibany@thenational.ae