‘My reputation is important to me’
2007-05-10 15:50:56 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Mustapha Aboubi, owner of The Olive Tree restaurant in Castlebar

Mustapha Aboubi, from Algeria in North Africa, came to Ireland 11 years ago for a holiday; he liked “the mellow and down to earth life” that he found here, and decided to stay. Soon after he met his wife Patricia, from Mayo, and the couple settled in Castlebar.

Aboubi had originally trained as a catering consultant in the UK, in the business of helping others to set up their businesses in the catering industry. From start to finish he would guide restaurateurs in planning and setting up restaurants. But on his arrival in Ireland, there was very little call for this business at the time, so he applied for work as a chef. 

“I was overqualified and it was apparent when I applied for other jobs,” he says. “They would look at my CV and see my work history. I was seen as a threat to head chefs in different restaurants and so I wasn’t getting the work. At the time England, where I had worked previously, was more advanced than Ireland in the catering and restaurant industry, so I was more advanced in my skills.”

Aboubi eventually got a job in a café: “It was okay but it didn’t really suit me as my job was really more upper-class, I only stayed a week. But people said to me ‘you have to start somewhere’.”

As luck would have it, a head chef position came up at The Grapevine in Galway where Aboubi could build up his reputation and make the right contacts. A consultancy came through this position. and Aboubi became the driving force behind the opening of an Italian restaurant called The Leaning Tower. He was on his way, but getting restless.

“I got sick of working for people and decided it was time to do it on my own,” he says. “I wasn’t being appreciated. My reputation is important to me.” 

In 1999 Aboubi saw an opening in the area for a Mediterranean food shop and deli. With assistance from Enterprise Ireland in the form of an interest free loan, Aboubi was able to meet with all safety standards in relation to the premises he had found and its food preparation areas. A take away and outside catering happened then. The operation – which also included a take-away and outside catering – became so successful that Aboubi took over the premises next door to expand into a full restaurant, The Olive Tree.

The camera-shy Aboubi employs three staff from Latvia and North Africa at The Olive Tree, which has received rave reviews and is changing the way people in the area think about Mediterranean food.

The success he has achieved here is not just down to hard work. According to Aboubi, the customer is king. “You can work all you like and still not have a successful business,” he explains. “You must first of all get the clients, then you must keep them. But you must not just look to what is in the customer's pocket; you must first look to what is in his heart and what he wants. The customer pays for the mortgage and pays the bills. Once you look after the customer, then you will be a success.”

However, success isn’t everything. “You really need to know where to draw the line,” says Aboubi. “When you are self-employed there is a temptation to work every hour in the week. But what is the point? You must also know when to stop and close the door. Spending time with family is what I do when I go home to relax.”

Aboubi feels that the mellow life that attracted him to Ireland is disappearing, and he claims it started to vanish when Sunday trading was introduced. “Shopping is the new religion and shopping centres are the new cathedrals,” he says. “There is no sacred time off anymore and now it is all non-stop rush, even on a Sunday. Workers work all week and yes it can be handy to have the possibility to shop on a Sunday, but Sundays are the busiest day of the week now. It is a shame.”

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