The person that I knew is a former oil & gas services field engineer in Baker Hughes and currently serves as Kuwait Country Head at a leading Oil and Gas service company, after having worked over 12 years in the oil & gas industry, he realized that his life’s passion is in food and beverages.
He then traded his official Dishdasha (middle eastern official suits for men) and Gutra (head scarf) after working hours and weekends to a baker’s uniform and found culinary success in doing something that he loves – baking/cooking, frozen dessert, cookies, brownies and cheesecakes. But he comes not from a long line of cooks.
The fine skills in food preparation were learned from his mother who is renowned for her distinctive Kuwaiti dishes which she cooks for family and friends.
This year, I’ve met the chef and owner Johnson Gilson who explains some insights of his business success. He first opened his bakery, called Food Of Arab. The name Food Of Arab now is the name of a booming new cookie brand in Kuwait. According to him, there is no magic formula; you just need to do it with passion. He then added “You put one foot in front of the other, and if you don’t get the desired results, you start over and never give up”.
Looking back, no one will argue that he regretted his decision in switching between these two professions. To further his skills, he went back to school toiling with all the kitchen stuff, and a few years ago he enrolled with an Italian frozen dessert school based in North Carolina to further hone his skills, and at the same time funding his own studies and business. The reward is now finally fruiting.
In late 2005, he could not hold back his deep passion as in his heart he wanted to do something he loves – cooking/baking and he finally decided to start a cookie & frozen dessert business from a small rented shop in Hawally, Kuwait.
He is living testament of “cherish your passion, follow your heart, do what you love to do, and the money will follow.” When asked how the idea Food Of Arab comes about? Johnson informed that although he was inspired by the cookies and cheese cakes found in bakeries in New York, the creation of improvising recipes was done by him with support from one staff, who worked day and night to produce the right balance and taste.
From leveraging his engineering experience, responsibility, dedication, persistence over the years, comes in his improvisational skills, creativity and techniques beyond recipe replication to cook and bake, where measurements are approximations and ingredients are interchangeable in a way that departs from the original but comes out tasting as good and better. Johnson can be fussy but is also known to be precise in his profession. He has to know flavors, what each taste like, texture, quality of the products and the time which it takes. According to him the longer you experiment and the more products you bake, will result in success.
The fortunes of many entrepreneurs have varied immensely, with many ideas seemingly doomed from the start and some people unable to cope with the pressures that come with running your own business. He is indeed different. According to him, the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs are the same as they have always been.
“The first is the physical leap of faith to actually do what you believe in. Be self-motivated and have perseverance in yourself. You’ve got to summon immense self-confidence as he has the option of just getting a normal job. Secondly, it’s finance. It strikes me in every single case just how tight money for new start-ups. You’ve got to have a business plan and road map in planning a business and remain in business successfully. Thirdly, he added that one need to know their limitations and market, resources and of course the right people.
He certainly gained his own experience the hard way. By being eager to learn, doing your own research and spot the warning signs. He takes every little matter as a serious challenge. Not just about tackling issues inside the kitchen, he then also quickly began learning many lessons and unexpected dilemmas he faced about how business is approached and conducted in Kuwait such as from investment budget, registering a business, operations, logistics, copy rights, the banking end, accounting system, codes and regulations, insurance, suppliers, distributors, inventory, packaging, web marketing and many more. On the front end, with some thought and careful planning, however, you can get a brand-new product up and running on your terms.
From day one, the taste, texture of the cookies and a dazzling logo that was created by him made many to think that Food Of Arab is from a US franchise branch due to its high quality products and its management style that was set forefront. The business success he created for Food Of Arab was further captured largely through its website that has revolutionized its marketing and promotion, creating unprecedented opportunities.
His cookies, based on his own recipes, were an immediate hit and took off like lightening. During the first few days and months of operation, his cookies which was built by him with no prior experience sold out its inventory hours through only word of mouth, online order & home delivery. According to him, there were many times when they first started, the bakery couldn’t keep up with the high demand as orders were going around the clock. It became so famous that his cookies, brownies, ice cream and cheese cakes have since then been featured in many of top high end restaurant’s menu in Kuwait.
It is strange to me that a business like Johnson’s has succeeded whilst there are many others that are selling good cookies too out there.
However at the same time, there are some of the major well-recognized cookie brands that have failed in Kuwait. To me, this is a challenge given the current tight competition in a small country like Kuwait and the possibility of failure. When asked why he took a gamble? Johnson stated that it was simply because of his passion.
At 45, giddily joyful Johnson had then decided to further extend his skills on to attending one of the top culinary schools abroad. When asked about his next step and future plans, Johnson plans to explore and branch out new food projects in the near future, broaden his networks, international experience and at the same time leverage his niche strength by partnering with the right people with similar enthusiasm, passion and interest.
Johnson also pointed out by saying that all business is challenging even if you are part of a successful establishment. He also mentioned that add with challenge in bringing a brand-new product into existence and the difficulty multiplies. Having said that, he believes one should not be afraid of challenges as true success comes from doing it your way and making mistakes along the way, learning from them, being persistence and moving on ahead. He concluded by saying that one must find a niche, differentiate the products, be small yet think big, maintain good reputation, have constant improvement, be innovative, work smart and finally listen to your customers.