Although Beirut is back in the headlines for the turmoil engulfing the region, some business owners in the Lebanese capital still insist there are sweet times ahead.
This is why Hussam Itani, an entrepreneur with a once-successful business selling housewares to gift shops, plunged into the esoteric world of chocolate.
The 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the ensuing instability had badly hurt the Lebanese economy, but he noticed something: “Most customers that still bought our merchandise were chocolate shops, so I began to incorporate that into our business,” Hussam explained.
He was not satisfied with the chocolates he tried, and decided to try his hand at making his own. The problem? There was no money to build a workshop. “We were in a desperate financial situation, very badly in debt. One night, he turned to me and said, ‘Get ready. I’m going to set up a chocolate factory.’ I told him he was crazy,” said Najah, Hussam’s wife and self-proclaimed “money person”.
“Don’t ask me how he did it,” she said. “Next thing I knew, we were in our workshop learning how to make chocolate.”
Every day, the pair would don their white aprons and try recipes and techniques they gleaned from the internet, books and other sources. They re-envisioned traditional Lebanese sweets rich with rosewater, heavy cream and pistachio, creating elegant chocolate treats.
Two years later, as Lebanon faces difficult times once again, Hussam and Najah’s “Truffle” enterprise has sprouted four locations in Lebanon and the Gulf.