Many visitors to Damascus stop at one store the Syrian war has failed to shut down: Abu Shaker. Defying what seemed to be the inevitable war-ravaged business climate, the famous juice store in the Syrian capital has stayed open in its third generation. First established by Adnan al-Omari, who’s also known as Abu Shaker, it’s now run by his son, Abdel Hadi.
Long a favorite among its Syrian clientele, the shop also keeps in touch with past foreign visitors who remain loyal fans of Abu Shaker (and stay connected to its social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter).
Abdel Hadi explained the secret to the store’s ongoing popularity. “We try to create a sense of familiarity with the customer. We are generous and try to remember the names of all our clients.”
He spoke to Syria Deeply about what it takes to keep going and how his shop provides more than just juice to Syrians today.
Syria Deeply: When was the store established? Tell us about how it was in the beginning.
Hadi: In 1956, my grandfather and father opened a small juice store in the Marjeh square. It was very primitive then, and they only served four kinds of juices: pomegranate, orange, lemon and tamarind. Then my father bought blenders to mix banana and milk, which were then bought from Beirut. In 1977, the shop moved to its current location at Bawabet al-Salhiyeh.
My father made sure to keep coming up with new kinds of juices while perfecting the art of presentation. That’s really what kept the store going. This profession is built on the skill of mixing fruits to come up with new kinds of juices that the customer tastes for the first time. In the early 1990s, my father limited his activities to buying the fruits from the markets while my siblings and I took over running the store. We followed in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. Every day we come up with a new concoction.
Syria Deeply: The store is very popular among Damascenes and the customers feel they are part of the family here. What’s the secret to this familiarity between you and the client?
Hadi: Our motto is: “Continuity is more important than profit.” We don’t care as much about profit as we do about attracting the largest number of customers possible. When you call someone by their name, they feel at ease and that they are respected. We care about the reputation of the store, so even if we make losses, that wouldn’t be a problem.
Additionally, after most public spaces in al-Ghouta, Bludan and al-Zabadani were destroyed, people shifted to meeting at nearby places. That’s when the store became more than a juice shop and is now the number one place to meet with friends and have social gatherings.
Syria Deeply: Your Facebook page has 165,000 likes. How did you achieve that?
Hadi: We don’t only have a Facebook page, but also a Twitter account. This is what also makes the shop special. My siblings and I aren’t just juice sellers. My father was adamant we all went through university. I majored in media and PR, so I established our accounts to promote the store and connect with our clients. The pictures of our delicious juices make us more popular and familiar with the customer, which is our top goal.
Syria Deeply: Was the store affected by the crisis, the power cuts and the hike in prices? How did you manage that?
Hadi: In the beginning, we weren’t affected but with the exorbitant increase in prices, especially lately, we have had difficulty getting all the fruit we needed. In general, the fruits and machines are available, but it’s the increase in prices that was holding us back. We made less profit. However, sales were strong. The prices of raw material had increased by 70%, so we increased our prices by 25%.
The power cuts on the other hand didn’t affect us a lot because we have generators for the shop. The nature of our business requires us [to be prepared]. You can’t overlook the security situation because we are in a dangerous area and it is bombed on a daily basis. We were hit once a while ago, but it didn’t matter because life goes on.
Syria Deeply: Did sales dip or increase during the crisis?
Hadi: The continuity policy we adopt as well as the lack of public spaces turned the shop into a meeting point for friends and for family visits. This helped increase sales by 20%.
Syria Deeply: What does the future hold for you?
Hadi: We are trying to maintain what we have by providing excellent service to our clients. I also want to thank my father who taught us all we know at Abu Shaker and who made sure we have a higher education. I’m currently writing a book on PR called “The Way to Communicate,” and I dedicate it to my father.