Taste of kindness as tweet saves Saudi restaurant owner from jail

Abdullah Al-Qahtani, owner of Al-Basha Koshari restaurant.
Updated 10 November 2019

Taste of kindness as tweet saves Saudi restaurant owner from jail

  • Al-Qahtani’s daily financial losses started to mount, but he decided “it was only a matter of waiting 30 more days

JEDDAH: A Twitter post has helped save a Riyadh restaurant owner from a possible prison term after construction work on the capital’s rail project left his restaurant business saddled with debts.
Following a plea by Abdullah Al-Qahtani, owner of Al-Basha Koshari restaurant, on Twitter, people rushed to his eatery to offer help, showing the difference that social media can make in times of need.  
The restaurant owner told Arab News that his problems began when he and other shop owners on the same road were told about construction work for the train project.
Al-Qahtani said that he worried about losing loyal customers who for years have enjoyed his grilled meals and koshari, a popular Egyptian dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils.
“The train project company told us that the work would take no more than three months. I thought of moving to another location, but that would have cost me a lot. I decided to wait. After that we were informed that the work would need one more month,” he said.

Al-Qahtani’s daily financial losses started to mount, but he decided “it was only a matter of waiting 30 more days.”
However, the situation continued for more than 16 months, leaving Al-Qahtani drowning in debts of SR1.7 million ($453,330).
“Not only that, the problem has also caused us financial losses of nearly SR4 million. Some of the workers even decided to leave. The sales dropped by 90 percent,” he said.
The final straw came when the road’s traffic flow was changed, leaving the restaurant isolated and difficult to reach.
Al-Qahtani found himself in a real dilemma. He then thought about sharing his anguish with his compatriots through social media.
“When I posted my first tweet on the issue, I thought a thousand retweets or so would be my voice to the officials, but did not expect that the retweets would reach 7,000 on the first day,” he said.

In his tweet, Al-Qahtani said that he has lost a lot because of the train project and there was no compensation.
“I will soon be taken to prison due to debts that exceeded SR1.7 million in addition to losses of more than SR4 million. I care not about prison, but I’m worried about the future of my five children, who will suffer,” Al-Qahtani said in a tweet, which has made over 51,000 retweets.
“I am very proud of the citizens of Saudi Arabia who have shown all possible support that reflected the social coherence of Saudi society. In fact, even foreigners have come to buy from my shop to support me. Their gesture is highly appreciated,” he said.
The sales and distribution arm of STC Group, @STCChannels tweeted: “As part of our social responsibility and support for national projects, every Thursday, lunch meals for all our employees will be from Koshari Al-Basha for one month.”
Another offer came from Riyad Bank, which announced in a tweet that it has allocated a fully equipped room as an outlet for the restaurant at the bank’s headquarters.
The National Gas and Industrialization Co. promised a free one-time refilling for all gas cylinders at the restaurant.
Meanwhile, a Riyadh travel agency offered a lucky draw on 15 air tickets to Dubai or Cairo for visitors to the restaurant.  
Al-Qahtani expressed his gratitude to all those who helped him, saying: “I always believe in the maxim that says, ‘Keep your head up, you’re Saudi.’”


Startup of the Week: A Saudi Eco-friendly food waste startup brings value-added benefits

KAUST has been highly supportive of Carbon CPU, both technically and financially. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2020

Startup of the Week: A Saudi Eco-friendly food waste startup brings value-added benefits

  • Aldrees: “Over 90 percent of food waste in Saudi Arabia is dumped into landfills”
  • Carbon CPU’s technology uses a specially developed, eco-friendly reactor to help convert food waste into fatty acids

Carbon CPU is a biotechnology startup specializing in turning food waste into fatty acids for use as livestock nutrients.

Launched through the post-graduate startup accelerator program (TAQADAM) of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the venture was co-founded by Bin Bian, Jiajie Xu, Yara Aldrees, Sara Al-Eid and Prof. Pascal Saikaly.

The idea behind the enterprise began to take shape in 2018. Al-Eid said: “Our aim was to recycle food waste into value-added products in a manner that matched the Saudi Vision 2030 strategy.”

Similar to most countries, Saudi Arabia has a food waste problem, but Carbon CPU thought of utilizing it in a way that caused less harm to the environment and also benefitted the animal feed industry.

“Over 90 percent of food waste in Saudi Arabia is dumped into landfills,” said Aldrees. “This produces a lot of gas, including methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and cycloaromatics, and contributes to global warming and air pollution.”

Water and soil were also being contaminated through leachate production, she added. “We’re trying to solve those issues, too.”

 

The team found that animal farms often struggled to provide enough feed nutrients for livestock such as cows and sheep. Al-Eid said there was a huge shortage of fatty acids, which are used as livestock nutrients and were in high demand from farmers.

“We’re trying to help animals live longer and be more nutritious,” she added.

Carbon CPU’s technology uses a specially developed, eco-friendly reactor to help convert food waste into fatty acids.

“We produce fatty acids from the food waste, extracting them through a liquid-liquid extraction system. The fatty acid oils are then used to help animal feed, as well as the feed and chemical industries,” said Xu.

KAUST has been highly supportive of Carbon CPU, both technically and financially, added Bian. “KAUST, especially the Environmental Biotechnology Lab led by Prof Pascal Saikaly, provided us with the facilities to set up our reactors. The KAUST Innovation and Economic Development department and the Entrepreneurship Center also gave us a lot of guidance on how to push our technology into the market.”

The startup initially faced many challenges that KAUST helped to resolve. As individuals coming from backgrounds mainly in engineering and science, the team lacked the know-how in business that its project needed.

“KAUST made up for our lack of business thinking through training on how to solve business issues and create business modules and find the right customers for our product,” said Bian.