Closure of Pizza Hut chain feeds into Lebanon’s deepening sense of loss

Lebanese are feeling a sense of loss after the news Pizza Hut would be closing its Lebanon outlets earlier this month. (AFP/Supplied/File Photos)
Lebanese are feeling a sense of loss after the news Pizza Hut would be closing its Lebanon outlets earlier this month. (AFP/Supplied/File Photos)
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Updated 30 May 2021

Closure of Pizza Hut chain feeds into Lebanon’s deepening sense of loss

Lebanese are feeling a sense of loss after the news Pizza Hut would be closing its Lebanon outlets earlier this month. (AFP/Supplied/File Photos)
  • International franchise becomes the latest casualty of economic crisis made worse by pandemic
  • For many Lebanese, a pizza at any outlet symbolized an occasion to enjoy with family and friends

BEIRUT: It was Valentine’s Day and grand plans for the perfect date had been set for a young woman in Beirut. Unfortunately, a last-minute work trip intervened and forced the postponement of the romantic night out. To console their heartbroken friend, Haya and Mel picked up the perfect comfort food. 

“We ended up going to her place and I surprised her with pizza from Pizza Hut,” Haya told Arab News. “The restaurant was empty when I went to pick up the pizza. The chef let me decorate it with heart-shaped pepperoni.”

It might not have been the grand romantic gesture Haya and Mel had hoped to arrange for their friend after her boyfriend left, but they all enjoyed the evening and look back on it fondly.

They were therefore greatly saddened by the news that Lebanon’s favorite pizza chain was closing its doors, the latest culinary casualty of the country’s economic crisis.

In a message posted on Facebook on May 23, Pizza Hut Lebanon said: “We will never forget the excitement on your face whenever you get your cheese stuffed crust pizza ... Offering you the best quality and experience has always been our top priority. Until we are able to do that, with a heavy heart, we say goodbye.”

To some it might seem silly or trivial in a country where people have faced so much adversity in recent years to be upset about a fast-food joint closing down, particularly an international brand as ubiquitous as Pizza Hut.

But for others, a pizza on the table represents a social occasion to enjoy with family and friends, in a restaurant or at home, in a way that tacos or burgers and fries simply cannot match.

It is therefore understandable that the sense of loss goes beyond simple regret that the chain’s pizzas will no longer be available, and is perhaps more a reflection of the realization that precious memories of time spent in good company were often created while enjoying a slice or two.

Lebanon’s Culinary Decline

* 4,200 - Fall in restaurants and cafes since summer of 2019

* 2,000 - Establishments damaged in the Aug. 4 2020 blast

* 896 - Food and entertainment businesses that have shut in 2021

“My favorite memory is when they introduced PHD (Pizza Hut Delivery),” Farah Tabsh, a consultant in Dubai, told Arab News. “My mom was finishing her doctoral degree at the time. My brother, who was young, overheard us saying we were going to order PHD and he looked confused and said: ‘I thought that was mom’s job.’

“I think in general we equate Pizza Hut with a reward after school, like for doing well on a test or something. It was motivating when your parents said, ‘If you finish your homework, we’ll order Pizza Hut.’”

Other nostalgic customers said they will miss the restaurant experience the most.




Lebanese were greatly saddened by the news that Lebanon’s favorite pizza chain was closing its doors, the latest culinary casualty of the country’s economic crisis. (Supplied)

“It’s like a place where you connect with people — that was what Pizza Hut was for us,” said Sarah Siblini, an engineer who is studying for her Master of Business Administration.

“It wasn’t just delivery and takeout. When I think of Pizza Hut, I think of being at the place with people, enjoying my time with them and enjoying good pizza.”

The pizza chain — which was founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas, and is the biggest in the world based on number of branches — is the latest international brand to pull out of Lebanon or scale down operations there.

Others include soft drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries Fanta and Sprite, and sportswear company Adidas, which has closed its stores in the capital and is focusing on selling through third-party vendors

The brands are reacting to Lebanon’s overlapping crises, manifested in a plunging currency, skyrocketing inflation and mounting social unrest. The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port in August last year and the ongoing political paralysis.

Many local and regional businesses have also been forced to close, such as Cafe Em Nazih and Grand Cafe, as has Couqley French Bistro.




Some Lebanese view the departure of Western brands such as Pizza Hut as an opportunity for local businesses to step in and fill the void. (Supplied)

“The sequence of crises since the summer of 2019 has reduced the number of restaurants and cafes from 8,500 establishments to 4,300,” said Tony Ramy, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Nightclubs and Pastries. This year alone, 896 venues have closed so far, he told Arab News.

More than 2,000 establishments were partly or completely destroyed by the Beirut blast last year, which killed at least 200 people, injured about 6,000, and destroyed a large section of the city, including some of its hippest dining spots.

Many of the businesses that survived the devastation are struggling to survive the financial crisis and the effects of the pandemic. Even the famous, five-star Le Bristol Hotel — which in days gone by welcomed illustrious guests such as the last Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Prince Albert of Monaco, and former French president Jacques Chirac — has succumbed to financial pressures, closing last year after nearly 70 years in business.

In a kind gesture to help ease the suffering of the community that hosted them for so long, the hotel’s owners donated all of its furnishings to local non-profit organization Beit El Baraka, which is helping to support those in the city who lost their homes or livelihoods in the port blast.

The explosion, caused by nearly 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, was the final straw for many business owners struggling to survive the pressures of the financial crisis and stringent coronavirus restrictions.




Pizza Hut was just one of 896 food and entertainment businesses that have shut in Lebanon in 2021. (Supplied)

“Following several total and partial lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, and despite the opportunity to be back in business, the restaurant sector is wary about reopening because operational costs now outweigh profits,” Ramy said. The reason for this is that purchases from suppliers are based on the exchange rate of the dollar in the parallel market, he said, which is much higher than the official rate and has caused prices to soar.

Even before the pandemic brought normal daily life grinding to a halt, Lebanon was experiencing an economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, with its currency losing 80 percent of its value.

According to the World Bank, real gross domestic product growth contracted by 20.3 percent last year and the inflation rate hit triple digits. The financial meltdown, the worst in the country since the 1975-1990 civil war, triggered social unrest across the country.

Restaurant Closures

October 2019 - Grand Cafe Downtown

April 2020 - Le Bristol Hotel

Aug. 4, 2020 - Cafe Em Nazih

October 2020 - Couqley

May 2021 - Pizza Hut

Fights have broken out in supermarkets over basic items such as cooking oil and powdered milk, while soaring unemployment and inflation have plunged half of the population into poverty.

Meanwhile, a temporary caretaker government, which took over when the elected authority resigned in disgrace following the Beirut explosion, remains in place 10 months later as politicians continue to squabble over the composition of a new cabinet.

The Lebanese people, who have endured so much hardship in recent decades, have a habit of finding silver linings even in the midst of seemingly impenetrable gloom. Some, for example, view the departure of Western brands such as Pizza Hut as an opportunity for local businesses to step in and fill the void — a cleansing, perhaps, that might make way for a social and cultural renaissance.

“There is a lot of hope among local companies, so I’m not saddened that Pizza Hut is closing, because I see the opposite: the local flourishing,” said Siblini.

“Even though we had good memories, they are just memories — and memories are in the past.”


Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming
Updated 23 June 2021

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Tunisia ‘trailblazer’ in Mediterranean seaweed farming

Wading knee-deep in the calm waters of a lagoon, workers in northern Tunisia harvest red seaweed, in a nation dubbed a Mediterranean “trailblazer” in cultivating the in-demand plant.

Red seaweed or algae is used for gelling, thickening and texturing agents that are increasingly a substitute for animal-based products in processed foods, and it is also being used increasingly in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.


Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 23 June 2021

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study

Colombia has the world’s largest variety of butterfly species: study
  • “Colombia is a country with a great diversity of natural habitats, a complex and heterogeneous geography and a privileged location in the extreme northeast of South America,” the report reads in part

BOGOTA: Colombia is home to the world’s largest variety of butterflies, approximately 20 percent of all known species, according to a study published Tuesday by the Natural History Museum in London.
An international team of scientists cataloged 3,642 species and 2,085 subspecies, registering them in a document titled “Checklist of Colombian Butterflies.”
More than 200 butterfly species are found only in Colombia, said Blanca Huertas, the senior butterfly collection curator at the Natural History Museum in London, who was part of the research team.
Project researchers traveled widely in Colombia, analyzed more than 350,000 photographs, and studied information collected since the late 18th century, the museum said.
“Colombia is a country with a great diversity of natural habitats, a complex and heterogeneous geography and a privileged location in the extreme northeast of South America,” the report reads in part.
“These factors, added to the delicate public order in the last century in certain regions, has limited until now, the advancement of field exploration.”
Colombia has endured more than half a century of armed conflict, with some areas controlled by leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups or drug lords, and with little government presence.
Protecting butterflies in Colombia will also help protect its forests as well as other, less likeable species, Huertas said.
Between 2000 and 2019 Colombia lost nearly 2.8 million hectares of forest, equivalent to the area of Belgium, according to the National Department of Planning.


Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021
Updated 22 June 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021

Madame Tussauds to open in Dubai later in 2021
  • The attraction will feature 7 rooms including a Bollywood-themed area
  • There will be 60 statues of global stars including new faces from the Middle East

DUBAI: Dubai is already known for its manmade islands, iconic sky scrapers, and the world’s first seven-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab, and now it’s getting its own version of the popular tourist attraction Madame Tussauds.

The world-famous waxwork museum is opening its first Middle East venue in Dubai’s Bluewaters Island later this year, Merlin Entertainments Ltd (Merlin), announced Tuesday.

Visitors will be able to take pictures with a selection of wax statues of 60 global stars, including 16 new wax figures from the Middle East region.

The attraction will feature seven themed rooms, including a Bollywood movie, featuring the Badshah of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan.

Other figures will include Kylie Jenner, Cara Delevingne and footballing legend, Christiano Ronaldo.

“In addition to well-known global figures, the new Madame Tussauds will also be home to figures celebrated in the Middle East including Nancy Ajram and Maya Diab, alongside other figures which we will announce very soon,” said Meike Lippert, Senior Divisional Director Midway Europe and Global New Openings, Merlin Entertainments.

It takes sculptors 12 weeks to create each wax statue, and during that time they document 500 precise body measurements, insert real hair strand by strand, apply countless layers of paints to build up the skin tones.

And it can cost up to $208,000 to create a wax figure, depending on the work involved.

The first Madame Tussauds was opened in 1835 in London, and has remained a popular destination with tourists in the British capital ever since.

There are also branches in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Wuhan and New York.

“It is a thrilling experience to bring the iconic Madame Tussauds to the UAE,” said Sanaz Kollsrud, General Manager of Madame Tussauds Dubai.

“This will be the 25th edition of our wax attraction and will be a first in the GCC. We intend to bring a whole new entertainment experience to the exciting portfolio of attractions in Dubai and cement Bluewaters’ position as a global tourist destination.” Kollsrud added.


Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone
Updated 21 June 2021

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone

Outgoing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets his first smartphone
  • Netanyahu was probably one of the few people who didn’t own a smartphone
  • Former prime minister’s new phone number will remain unknown to many

BEIRUT: Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now owns a smartphone for the first time in 12 years, Israeli media reported on Monday.
Unseated as premier in early June, Israel Today said Netanyahu was probably one of the few people who didn’t own a smartphone across the country, highlighting that “today he is proud of the smartphone he has.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett succeeded in cobbling together a government in the aftermath of Israel’s fourth consecutive election in two years.
Netanyahu, who served for 12 years as prime minister until Bennett’s government was sworn in last week, has yet to move out of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
The former prime minister’s new phone number will remain unknown to many except for a select few, the newspaper said.
Mentioning the issue of owning smartphones in 2014, Netanyahu was reportedly overheard exclaiming to his entourage prior to filming and interview with an American TV channel: “I do not understand the new world where everybody wants to click photos! When do you live?”
Reporters cited him as saying “everybody takes pictures, that is all what they do! Don’t take pictures, live your life! I lived mine without taking photos. I am the only person, who doesn’t have electronic devices. I am a free man and you are all slaves to your devices.”
According to the newspaper, a friend of Netanyahu claimed that the last time he owned a personal phone was in 2009.
Despite the fact that he has not used a smartphone for more than a decade, he remains one of the most followed people on social media, with over 2 million followers on Twitter and over 2.6 million followers on Facebook.


UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
Updated 20 June 2021

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
  • Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd
  • She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, after it finished a close second

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended the final day of the Ascot races on Saturday, where environmental protesters urged the monarch to press politicians to act faster against climate change.
The 95-year-old queen, a keen racing fan and racehorse owner, has attended Ascot almost every year of her seven-decade reign. She was absent last year, when the event was held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her return came two months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, at 99.


Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd as she arrived to cheer on four horses she owns that were racing on Saturday. She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, Reach for the Moon, after it finished a close second.
The annual racing meeting west of London is a heady mix of horses, extravagant headwear, fancy dress, champagne and strawberries with cream.
Protesters from environmental group Extinction Rebellion unfurled a banner reading “Racing to Extinction” at the racecourse on Saturday. The group said four women glued themselves to their banner and chained themselves to the fence in a protest intended to be seen by the queen. She was not nearby at the time.