Fadi Azooz, left, and Sharban Kunda opened Barista Coffee in their home town of Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil. Lee Hoagland / The National
Friends since their school days, Sharban Kunda, 28, and Fadi Azooz, 27, opened a western-style coffee shop in their home town of Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil. Barista Coffee, a cafe with modern furnishings, lattes and mochaccinos is an anomaly in a neighbourhood in which competitors serve Turkish coffee to locals seated on cheap plastic chairs. The owners discuss why they rushed to beat the global coffee chains to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Where did the idea come from?
Sharban: I was travelling a lot, to Germany and Turkey and Lebanon, and got the idea of bringing the cafes you find everywhere to Iraq. People want high-quality places and there are very few here. The foreigners know what it is and were looking for this kind of coffee shop. The locals are starting to come and many of them who have been abroad were looking for it too.
Fadi: I was running an internet shop in the American consulate compound and the Americans were asking for “real” coffee.
How did you get started?
Fadi: Six months ago it was an idea. Then we made connections with a coffee company in Europe called Schaerf, so step-by-step we worked with them and we took the rights. The company advised us and told us to find a nice street, close to main streets. I did some training in Turkey. Sharban got training in Germany.
What challenges have you faced?
Sharban: It’s really hard to get visas for foreign workers because of unemployment here. You have to prove that you’ve made the effort to recruit locals and that you can’t find people here with the right skills. You have to put an advertisement in the newspaper for days.
Fadi: We went to Turkey many times to buy decorations and everything. We had so many problems to get high-quality products. You have to get the right furniture and make it a nice place. It’s very hard to get it here. Everything has to be imported. We brought all the cups and machines from Germany. We have cakes that are brought over from Turkey.
Are your customers mainly locals or foreigners?
Fadi: It’s a mix. Many of the locals didn’t understand the coffee, but we explain it to them and we get them to try it and they tell their friends. We get Iraqis, Lebanese, French. Morning time, people come and do business here, they come and read books. We’re thinking of having books for sale here too.
Sharban: Only boys sit in the other coffee shops around here that serve Turkish coffee and shisha. This is something different.
Do you have plans to expand?
Fadi: Now we want to help someone else open one in a compound for oil workers in Basra and we want to open another one in Erbil. We have big plans.
Sharban: We are thinking about another project now – a steakhouse.