Enas El Masry

The first year in business is one of the hardest in any entrepreneur’s journey. No matter how well-rounded a business plan is, surprises that are unaccounted for are bound to happen. As far as the co-founders of Barkit were concerned, their first bump along the road was more of a steep hill: a global pandemic and a full lockdown across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Although Barkit’s journey resembles that of many other restaurants, the months that preceded its opening on August 19th, 2020 were exceptional. So how did Barkit survive this turbulent storm?

Hailing from KSA’s Al-Taif is 31-year-old W.H., one of Barkit’s three co-founders. Growing up in the city dubbed the Summer Capital of the Kingdom for its high altitude and pleasant summer weather, W.H. saw his city buzz with life during summer and then crawl back to the monotony of routine as vacationers left.

“Seeing how the residents of the city are mostly people who come from conservative families, you don't find a lot of diversity or creativity in the food and beverage market. It’s confined to traditional foods,” says W.H.

Together with his co-founders and partners, W.H. has traveled aplenty across the country, the region, and the world. “Our hobby was to try different restaurants and different cuisines. The quality of food and service that we encountered across the Gulf, the US, and Europe was definitely missing in our city,” says W.H. “Our travels opened our eyes to all the flavors and diversity that our city lacks.”

Despite Al-Ta’if’s overwhelming and unwavering routine, it’s still home to a lot of youth like the Barkit co-founders. Closing the F&B market gap between Al-Ta’if and its neighboring cities was a wish that they decided to turn into the seed for their business.

In 2018, only two years after the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the three Barkit-eeres set out to give the youth of Al-Ta’if a casual, high-quality dining experience that they can relate to. With that, a 10-year-long friendship evolved into a business partnership.

For two and a half years, they traveled across Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain in search of the best-suited talents in the industry. “Our priorities were quality, quality, quality,” stressed W.H. “We wanted chefs, bakers, and restaurant assistants who aren’t just good and experienced at what they do, but are creative as well.”

With government facilitation for SMEs, the co-founders enjoyed easier regulations but still chose to self-fund the business from their personal full-time job salaries.

By March 2020, while the entire world was reacting to the officially declared global pandemic, Barkit was getting its final touches and ready to launch. Unbeknownst to the prospect developments of the situation, the Barkit three had no reason to put their business on hold. So, shortly after the staff had been hired and accommodated in Al-Ta’if, the entire Kingdom was ordered into a full lockdown.

In times like these, many businesses choose to pivot to survive. While some diners relied on delivery, others prepared frozen meals that customers can easily cook at home. For Barkit though, the situation was different: They had nothing to pivot from.

“[Changing course] wasn’t a viable option because the full customer experience was of prime importance to us and it isn’t confined to the food. The atmosphere, packaging, and other details are equally integral to the experience

“It was also very hard for our staff to prepare, freeze, and package the food in a way that lives up to the quality we want to offer.”

And so they waited.

For four months, the three committed to paying their staff’s salaries without operating Barkit or making any profit from it. Despite the turbulence of 2020, the co-founders were able to navigate and survive it thanks to their solidarity and support as well as having their priorities straight. Since August, the co-founders have expressed deep gratitude for their restaurant management that allowed Barkit to sail smoothly through its early days.

“Despite our brief operational time, most of our customers are returning customers which shows that the customer base we’ve built is a solid one,” says W.H. - a success that he attributes to upholding their high standards.

Choosing quality over quantity, the Barkit three are, for the time being, focused on fortifying their operations before reaching out to new customers and expanding their community.