Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Hifa Maleki On Offering Fresh Dining Experience Of Latin Flavors With El Corazon and El Jardin

We recently had the privilege of interviewing Hifa Maleki, a Business Owner at El Corazon and El Jardin. Hifa shares a deep commitment to growing great brands across Canada and has been passionately working for over 14 years for the same. With a strong work ethic and approachability, Hifa Maleki specializes in fast-paced strategic planning, scaling, and executing best practices to support sustainable growth. 

With proper staff training and development, Hifa Maleki ensures top-notch guest experience and service as the prominent focus of her business, reflecting her people-centric approach. In this insightful interview, Hifa Maleki shares her career journey, biggest achievements, constraints, and how she balances her operations. 

Beginnings First

We started the interview by asking, “Can you tell us about your professional journey and what led you to your current role?” 

Hifa responds, “My professional journey started when I was young. I looked up to my older sister, a residential real estate agent who wanted to be just like her. I worked with her company in high school, working at different show suites and helping rent and sell condos. While working with them, my mentor in the company suggested working in restaurants to seek out potential clients. I started hostessing at a local restaurant and fell in love with the industry. Accordingly, I spent 17 consecutive years working in the hospitality industry. For 10 years, I worked with the Fuller Family, leading the charge, and for 5 years, I was a young general manager of one of the highest-volume restaurants in Edmonton. I became known for building a restaurant located by the airport, from $6M in AUV to almost $11M AUV in about 3 years. 

However, I was given an opportunity to work outside my comfort zone as an Operations Director for a brand new pizza franchise based out of Edmonton known as Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria. After meeting with the owners of the brand, I knew these 3 young men had something special, so I took off my corporate hat and stepped into the franchise world. For 4 years, we opened over 40 locations across the country, becoming one of the fastest-growing food franchises in Canada. Although I invested so many years in the hospitality industry, Famoso is where I found my true passion for business and brand development.” 

She added, “When the opportunity was presented to work with an unknown franchise brand in an industry I had zero experience in, I was intrigued. The brand itself was very interesting, but what truly interested me was what I felt and learned in my interview with the company’s owners. David Hardy, also one of the 4 main owners of the brand based out of Florida, had some big plans to drive the brand’s potential. 

I joined Orangetheory Fitness Canada when there were about 6 locations in Canada at the time, the company’s goal being to reach their first milestone in 5 years of 40 locations. After becoming both obsessed with the workout itself and seeing the innovation that I felt truly did differentiate the brand from others, I also felt the potential and was aggressively hungry to build as many successful locations in Canada as possible. In 3 years with the company, we reached 100 Open locations with 150 licenses sold. 

Still, when Covid hit in 2020, we continued to open locations and support our franchisees through what became the worst situation a business owner could go through. Like many, Covid got me thinking about the future. At this point, I became obsessed with starting my own business. While working on a different brand, one of my good friends convinced me to work with him and open restaurants. Being passionate about large-scale business development, my original plan was to open 20 businesses in Canada, so we agreed to meet in the middle and open 10 restaurants together. Now 3 years later, we are starting construction of our 3rd space with our open project for late Spring 2024.” 

Setting The Businesses Apart 

We were curious to learn how Hifa Maleki plans and manages her business to remain unique amidst the competition. So, we asked, “What sets your business apart from competitors in the industry?” 

Hifa shared, “Food is subjective to people’s tastes. While we can strive to provide the best food and drinks, we cannot guarantee that we will be everyone’s favorite. Our primary focus is service and guest experience. We invest significant energy in ensuring we hire the right people, invest in their training, and stay close to their development. 

This is a people business, where your team feels set up for success, where they feel happy, and where they will ensure they operate their shifts successfully, making others happy. We believe that for you to ensure that guests are happy, your staff have to know what that feels like.” 

Unveiling The Biggest Success 

Every business has its set of triumphs and failures. To learn more about the biggest success of Hifa Maleki’s business. So, we asked, “What has been your business’s biggest achievement to date?” 

She replied, “We do very limited marketing and spend all our marketing dollars inside our 4 walls taking care of our guests. Most of our business is through organic word of mouth. We care about our guest experiences so much, and our volumes and business are a result of our guests raving fans of the product and their overall experiences.” 

Being An Effective Communicator 

We were intrigued to learn about Hifa’s leadership approach towards her business. We asked, “How would you describe your leadership style?” 

I am a highly effective communicator who is mindful of tone and etiquette. I believe that your staff have to buy into what you are selling. Ensuring they feel like they are part of a company with values and integrity while being respectful and showing care and appreciation is critical. I lead with passion and care while ensuring that I am always transparent and clear on standards and expectations.” She replied. 

Effective Teamwork

Maintaining strong trust and cooperation among the team members is crucial to ensuring business success. So, we asked, “What strategies do you use to motivate and develop talent in your organization?” 

Hifa shared, “We focus on personal development and skill building. I always tell our team that for a business to be strong, the team has to be strong. The stronger the team, the stronger the business. The better the team, the better the business. We invest in an hour of one-on-one conversations with all key leaders and hold them to the same standard as their managers. Personal development motivates people to want to be better and do better for themselves.” 

Acing The Game With AI 

With the fast-paced technological advancements at current times, particularly AI, it is paramount for businesses to catch on the trend, regardless of the industry. We asked, “What role do artificial intelligence or technology play in this industry?” 

She shared, “AI has the opportunity to play a very large role in resource building and understanding your consumers better. Ai has the potential to teach owners about how to offset trends and learn any patterns that may be negatively affecting them while giving them insights on how to improve.” 

Measuring The Smaller Footprints 

We further asked, “How do you envision the future of your industry?” 

Hifa continued, “I see smaller footprint businesses opening. Gone are the days of restaurateurs all looking to open massive restaurants with over 200 seats. While some of the big brands will continue to do this, the smaller footprint is showing itself to be more intimate, easier to manage, more affordable, and give owners flexibility in resources to open more than 1 location.” 

Adaptability Amidst Challenges 

Hurdles and challenges are an inevitable part of any business journey. So, we asked, “What have been some of the most significant hurdles you’ve encountered in your business, and how did you address them?” 

Hifa Maleki shared, “Cost of goods continues to be a major challenge in our industry. We watch what we buy and manage costs more consistently than ever before. It’s not as easy as changing a menu, but being on top of being more strategic and fluid with purchasing.” 

Worth Sharing Advice 

To learn more about the words of wisdom regarding business that influenced Hifa Maleki the most, we asked, “What is an excellent piece of business advice you have ever received?” 

Think and build to your goal. If your goal is $5 million in sales, make decisions at that level. If your goal is to open 10 locations, make decisions at that level. It allows you to scale faster, building stronger pillars in your business to support your long-term success without consistently pivoting and changing.” She replied. 

Balancing The Tasks 

We ended the interview by asking, “How do you balance investing in up-to-date ideas with ensuring ongoing operations remain successful?” 

Make minimal changes at once. In a science experiment, to know what the best outcome is, you change only one variable at a time. In business, being mindful of introducing one up-to-date idea while ensuring your business operations are stable is critical. This allows you to seamlessly introduce new ideas while best evaluating if they are working, need adjusting, or need to be replaced with a different idea.” Hifa concluded.

Connect with Hifa Maleki on LinkedIn

Find El Corazon on LinkedIn or visit their website to learn more.

Visit El Jardin on LinkedIn to learn more. 

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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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