Cindy Nehme and Pamela Syriani quit their jobs, moved to Barcelona, and opened up their own bistro. Here’s how they did it
Ever dreamt of throwing in the towel, moving to a different country, and kicking off an entirely new career? If the answer’s yes, then you’ll find kindred spirits in Cindy Nehme and Pamela Syriani.
The duo quit their jobs, moved to Barcelona, and opened a small Lebanese restaurant called Bērytī Bistro in June this year – all for the love of adventure and the desire to make their dream of creating a piece of Beirut in Barcelona come true.
“People called us crazy,” says Nehme, a former digital director. “Family, friends, colleagues. How and why would you leave Lebanon, your jobs, your lives to start from scratch? Well, why not? Life is an adventure and it takes courage to live. It’s definitely challenging to pack up your life and go to a country where you don’t know anyone nor speak the language to open a bistro. What do we know about opening a bistro? Nothing. But we’re Lebanese, we’ll figure it out, we’re raised with a can-do attitude. And this is what helped us overcome every single challenge: this Lebanese resilience to make things happen. And if we were able to make something as crazy as this happen, then anything is possible for anyone.”
It took Nehme and Syriani two years to bring the project to fruition after initially falling in love with Barcelona in 2013. “We said that one day we would leave everything and come open a Lebanese bistro,” says Syriani, a former casting director. “And we did. Why Barcelona? It’s the adventure of a lifetime; to leave your family, your friends, your comfort zone, being stripped of everything you know and to start from scratch. Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe what we did but, hey, what’s life without a little bit of madness?”
It hasn’t been easy. Both had to gather as much culinary and business experience as possible prior to the opening. For Nehme that meant working closely with Kamal Mouzawak, leading the communication department of Souk el Tayeb and delving into the roots of Lebanese traditions and culture. For Syriani, it meant enrolling in Kafaat.
Even then there were hiccups along the way. When they first landed in Barcelona in the early hours of the morning their Airbnb wasn’t ready and they had to sleep on the sidewalk in the rain. When the renovation process kicked off it took almost four months and the duo had to communicate with their project managers via Google translate. But it was all worth it. For the pre-opening party they went door-to-door inviting more than 250 neighbours, with the end result being a full house.
“We do the cooking, service, and handle the bar, but our favourite part is sitting with our customers and sharing conversations and stories.”
“It’s a piece of Beirut in Barcelona,” says Nehme. “Our way to promote Beirut, what this city has evolved to become and what it truly has to offer. ‘This doesn’t look Lebanese at all’, we hear. But this is the real Lebanon. Modern and rooted in its traditions, colourful in its diversity, rich in culture and art, hospitable with its beautiful people who make one of the best and healthiest cuisines in the world. And food is a conversation starter. And this is all it takes.”
As well as the food and atmosphere, an important aspect of the bistro is its branding.
“Cindy came up with Bērytī, meaning Beirut in Latin,” says Syriani. “We wanted an accurate portrayal of Beirut, which is a melting pot of cultures and civilisations. Jihane Fadel, a previous Ogilvy creative director, guided us through the process of creating the brand, its philosophy and positioning and developed the brand identity. Vanessa Ephrem, a renowned interior designer based in Beirut, conceptualised the interior. We video-called every day for two months, where Vanessa took us through all aspects of a renovation process and taught us about electric installation, painting, plumbing, tiling... over the phone. Then she flew to Barcelona and lived with us for a month to execute her vision for the bistro.”
For Ephrem, the idea was to recreate a Beirut home, blending the nostalgia of the simplest and freshest Lebanese homes – in floral patterns, marble countertops, neon lights and weaved fabric – with aspects of a modern Beirut. “The modern way of the Beiruti youth and how our modern taste influences the charming old houses we nest in,” explains Syriani.
The end result? Well, a bistro that has made an instant impact on Barcelona’s culinary scene.
“People are overwhelmed,” says Nehme. “By the bistro’s design, by the homey food (we make Lebanese home cooking so most of the dishes are an exciting discovery to our customers), and mainly by us as we’re hands on across the operation. We do the cooking, service, and handle the bar, but our favourite part is sitting with our customers and sharing conversations and stories. These are priceless. And this is why they come back again and again. Granted the food gives a warm hug to the stomach but the reason they come back is mainly to share a drink with us.”