Enterprising young Egyptians seize Ramadan business opportunities

The festive atmosphere and nightly feasts of Ramadan represent a unique commercial window for young Egyptian entrepreneurs.

al-monitor Traditional Ramadan lanterns hang from a stall ahead of the Muslim holy month in Cairo, Egypt, May 24, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.
Youssra el-Sharkawy

Youssra el-Sharkawy

@YoussraSharkawy

Topics covered

business, nasr city, entrepreneur, restaurants, egyptian economy, food, ramadan

Jun 22, 2017

For some young Egyptians, the holy fasting month of Ramadan is not only a spiritual time, but also an opportunity to launch small businesses. It's the high season for specific goods such as sohour and Iftar meals, colorful lanterns, khayameya work and other decorations.

Serving sohour — the pre-dawn meal during the holy month — can be a profitable business during Ramadan as many people like to spend the night eating together with friends. Some enterprising young people have started to compete with big restaurants in offering good quality meals at reasonable prices in the streets, where customers can enjoy the summer breeze.

Taking advantage of the holiday, Ahmed Abouda, 25, and Habiba Ashraf, 22, took over one of the sidewalks in Nasr City in Cairo and transformed it into a traditional seating area furnished with kilim carpets, cushions and small tables made of pallets to serve the famous meals of foul (beans) and ta’meya (falafel) made in a food cart they called Edrtna.

“We started the project because we wanted to invest our time in doing something profitable,” Abouda told Al-Monitor. He could not find a suitable job when he graduated from law school, so he established his own Ramadan business.

While Edrtna offers the same foul and ta’meya that are served all year round but are especially popular during Ramadan, Abouda and Ashraf keep inventing new recipes to attract new people and offer something for everyone. Besides their various kinds of foul made with sausage or butter and omelets and boiled or scrambled eggs, they also serve slices of watermelon, orange juice and bananas with Nutella or honey.

“We wanted to be unique because people like variety and we wanted to make them come again. That’s how we grew our business,” Abouda told Al-Monitor. They have about 25 tables, and the average sohour for one person at Edrtna starts at 30 Egyptian pounds (less than $2) and can reach 70 pounds (less than $4).

“We built a good reputation last Ramadan, which was our first, and this year we are building on what we built last year,” said Abouda, who makes some recipes with his friends at home.

Two young women, Dalia Ahmed and Hadeel el-Sherif, both 28 years old, launched their own sohour cart this Ramadan. They call it Cornishe Zayed.

With the help of volunteer friends, Ahmed brought a colorful foul cart to an empty space in the upscale Sheikh Zayed neighborhood and hung a banner and many LED lights. The customers start to arrive at 11:30 and linger until dawn every day. They also brought with them the Ramadan spirit more prevalent in the older areas of Cairo, like el-Hussein.

“We wanted to take the risk. We planned to carry out the project by ourselves. We are the owners and the waiters at the same time,” Dalia Ahmed, who holds a degree in mass communications, told Al-Monitor. Ahmed and her friend el-Sherif hired professional foul and ta’meya makers, while they prepare the other recipes like eggs and cheese with tomatoes at home.

As Ahmed and Abouda take their first steps, Saleh Masoud's business has exploded.

With his friends Abel Rahman Wali Eddin, Ahmed Ali and Tarek Azzam, Masoud established their Marzouka foul cart last Ramadan. They bought and redecorated a used foul cart and parked it on a street of Al-Moqattam district. They recruited many young people in the area to work with them and taught them about hygiene to make sure that every plate they serve is clean.

“After great success last Ramadan, we rented a shop and put our cart inside it. We've started a new phase as Marzouka the shop,” he explained.

This Ramadan, Marzouka’s team offers not only sohour meals but also a festive atmosphere as they rented the empty space in front of their small shop and decorated it with lovely lighting and khayameya tapestries. They put out 600 chairs and 80 tables and hired 65 waiters.

“Ramadan is a high season for foul, and we wanted to take advantage. We not only offer the traditional sohour but also homemade yogurt, sweet rice with milk, flan and ice cream in partnerships with other young people who make these products. We wanted to offer a complete and pleasant experience,” Masoud told Al-Monitor.

Martina Adel, 21, and Malak Mohamed, 21, decided to start their own Ramadan business selling festive items like fawanes, small pillows and khayameya. The two university students displayed their products on a sidewalk in Cairo's Misr el-Gedida district.

“If we enjoy what we are doing and we can make good profits, why should we be embarrassed?” Adel said to Al-Monitor.

The two young women were pushed by the economic crisis that hit Egypt after the government's 2016 decision to float the pound, which increased the prices of many products dramatically.

“We did not want to ask our families for money. Instead, we wanted to let them know that we are reliable,” she added.

Adel and Mohamed displayed their products for two weeks before Ramadan and for another week after the beginning of the month, as sales drop off at that point.

“This is our first time doing this, and it was like an improvisation. We bought our items from wholesalers and then sold them at a smaller markup compared to the shops,” Adel told Al-Monitor. She said they plan to rent a small shop where they can sell other various products beyond the Ramadan season.

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