The Moca Loca blog wants to officially introduce you to Sami Chakie, our president and founder. Mr. Chakie is now running 4 Moca Loca locations and franchised 4 others. During this interview, you will discover the ups and downs of this businessman, his path to success and his rewarding advice.
What distinguishes Moca Loca from other cafes and restaurants?
Good question! I think it’s my team and myself of course, because I work very hard. I wanted to create something unique, a place where you feel comfortable. What also sets us apart is that we are a local company. We respond to the needs of our customers and we deliver them exactly what they want. They are never disappointed. It is also the quality of our products and that we are unique and inventive.
How did you come up with the name Moca Loca?
Laughing. One day me and my cousin were talking, with a cigar in hand and I told him I wanted to open a coffee shop. At that time, it was just an idea I had in mind. I explained my concept; an upscale cafe, a place to relax, etc. He asked me if I had ideas for the name and I said yes, I have some idea: something Moca, maybe Moca Java. At that time, there was a very popular song by Ricky Martin, Livin ‘la vida loca. My cousin then suggested the name Moca Loca. I loved the name and the rhythm it had. So here we are.
What motivated you to be in the restaurant business?
My experience in the hotel and restaurant business is what motivated me. I studied in that field at the Algonquian College in Ottawa. At that time, I was leaning more against the hotel field. I always loved hotels. I wanted to be a hotel manager because it was my passion. After graduating, I worked as a busboy at the restaurant La Ronde, in the Holiday Inn. I was 24 at that time. Then I had the opportunity to become a waiter, which was very difficult in that restaurant, but I got lucky. I worked with great chefs. They taught me a lot and I gained a lot of experience. For me, the only way to learn is to start from the bottom. Even if you have training in a certain area, I think you have to make your way up.
Describe a typical day at work.
I first go to the office, where I discuss with my team our upcoming projects and schedules. I make sure that all my cafes are doing well. I check my emails. Then, around 11 am, I go to the Lounge and I work on the floor during lunch time, up to 2 o’clock. My focus right now is at the Lounge. I also take care of the schedule, orders and the proper functioning of the place. Then I return to my office where I plan new ideas and recipes with my merchandise manager and our marketing director.
What part of your job is more difficult and which part is more fun?
The hardest part is finding good people who want to work. It’s hard to find the right people and to keep them. We often hire young adults between 18 and 22, but they only tend to stay for a few months, one year max. The fun part is simply my company. I love every second of my work. An exciting part is expansion. Building new locations, finding franchisees, it’s always exciting!
What critical talent should one possess to be an entrepreneur?
I believe they must have the drive and the passion for their field. Patience and commitment are also very important. Becoming a good entrepreneur is not only creating, but also seeing what you can do with your idea, how to maintain it and keep it alive. What do you do to survive? There are thousands of restaurants, but what will make you stand out? That is the question.
What do you think is the key to success?
To me, the key to success comes from several elements. You must first work hard, never give up and finally love what you do. Moreover, you should never get discouraged and always stay positive.
How have you managed to build a loyal customer base?
Building a loyal customer base is probably one of the most difficult elements regarding a company. I think the key to building a firm clientele is to listen to your customers. With Moca Loca, I always made sure to offer what customers were asking by the quality of our products. It is important that customers leave with a smile and that they come back. However, to me this should come naturally for a successful business.
What mistakes should be avoided as a business owner?
I think the biggest mistake is to open a business and delegate all responsibilities to someone else. So when you open a restaurant or business, you should always be present. Also, never give up. Another advice I could give is to always make good decisions, hire the right people and never neglect your customers.
How have you developed a good relationship with your franchisees?
It’s a relationship that can sometimes be very difficult, it’s like being married. It is important to build a good relationship and to maintain it. Both parties must understand each other and work together. I believe it is essential that franchisees have the same vision and the same goals as us. A franchisee must be motivated, patient, be present and believe in our company. In addition, they must maintain the reputation we have already created for the company. This also works both ways; we are always there to help them and guide them towards success.
Why did you choose Gatineau as a place to build your business?
I chose Gatineau because I always preferred the French-Canadian culture. Despite the fact that I come from Ottawa and I did not speak French at all, I still decided to go for the challenge. You can say that I followed my instinct. I wanted to build a unique brand that was not settled in that region. I wanted to create a place where people could come and have a good time without necessarily being in a bar. Also, I wanted a versatile place, a place where you can have your morning coffee; eat a healthy meal at lunch, and a place to have a good time with friends while eating a rich piece of cake at night.
What inspires you to come to work in the morning?
God is the one who inspires me. laughing. I also have a great team, my wife and children that encourage me. Also, seeing the company growing through our efforts. All this motivates me to wake up in the morning and go to work.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur?
My first advice would be not to start too young. I think it’s important to gain experience before building your own business. Another tip is to have a lot of time on your hands, since a business takes a lot of your time. In the first five years of our company, I started my day at seven in the morning and I left at midnight. I am aware that I have missed several important events, however it was worth it. At first, it’s hard, but when your brand is settled, you will have more freedom. Also, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, as I mentioned earlier, you must have passion, motivation and above all be present.