Fakih believes too many entrepreneurs do business the wrong way by not recognizing that their employees are their most valuable asset. Fakih insists success will follow when staff are empowered to be partners and connected to causes beyond the business.
Ahead of pleasing shareholders or even customers, Fakih says his objective is to advance the philosophy of “people, purpose, and planet” with his staff at the center.
“The shareholders are not first and the bottom line isn’t first either,” he says. “For a CEO, the biggest asset should be your employees because when they’re happy, customers are more satisfied and that’s to the benefit of shareholders.”
Entrepreneurs who fail to challenge this status quo and who are only loyal to the bottom line and shareholders aren’t really entrepreneurs, according to Fakih, a label he believes is earned through innovation and fostering impact beyond business.
Fakih credits this staff-centered approach for Paramount’s success to date and for the Middle-Eastern restaurant chain’s growth as a brand.
This philosophy has also informed many of Fakih’s decisions, including the hiring and training of 100 Syrian refugees through a partnership with Ryerson and Magnet and actively including his voice in social and political causes.
In doing so, Fakih says Paramount has not only built a culture where people feel valued and want to work but also gained respect from the community as a company.
For Fakih, navigating the pandemic affirmed that his staff-first approach was ultimately the best way of serving customers and community and, in turn, shareholders.
Fakih’s business philosophy is informed by his background as “a proud Lebanese-Canadian Muslim who grew up during a civil war and understands that money isn’t everything.”
He recalls realizing as a child during the conflict that money wouldn’t protect those who had suffered severe losses or had to leave everything behind when fleeing their homeland.
“People feel if they live in the castle, they don’t have to worry,” he says. “We realized (during COVID-19) that doesn’t work because we’re all dependent on each other.”
Even following periods of recovery and reopening, there were still approximately 191,000 vacancies across the industry as of September 2021, with a significant number of workers finding opportunities in other sectors such as professional services.
Fakih says it’s been too common in the food services industry to view workers as expendable and treat high turnover as a given. Even pre-pandemic, employers were not recognizing that these jobs can be careers if they’re grounded in purpose, Fakih adds.
“The purpose-driven culture makes people excited to come to work,” he says. “Loyalty from customers and the trust of shareholders will ultimately follow when a business values its staff and is actively involved in the surrounding community.”
Paramount encourages staff to present ideas without management present. “Leaders need to learn from staff and not just make it a line of command,” Fakih says. For example, Paramount invites staff to propose ideas based on a start, stop, or continue model, allowing workers to have a stake in both the day-to-day operations of Paramount and the direction of the organization.
In addition to empowering employees, Paramount has maintained its commitment to supporting local initiatives, including providing free meals to homeless shelters and people in need throughout the pandemic.
Fakih says these initiatives are his way of empowering staff to connect to a purpose beyond profit and support the communities where they, as well as customers, work and live.
Fakih acknowledges that automation and technology are inevitable and necessary to keep Canada competitive, but insists that he won’t cut staff even if it is more financially lucrative.
In spring 2020, when the restaurant and hospitality industry was struggling, Fakih opened Box’d by Paramount, an automated restaurant in Toronto’s Financial District he says provided job growth rather than losses.
In the Financial District, restaurants have a short window of foot traffic each day, with an influx of workers at the beginning of the day and a lunch rush followed by an exodus at the end of the work day. Fakih explains, “We needed to maximize that time, which means more chefs cooking real food and support through prep and coordinating orders.”
Rather than a traditional experience of coming into a restaurant and placing an order with a cashier before retrieving it from another employee, Box’d eliminated front of house staff and seating, save for a concierge to assist customers who have trouble placing their order through available tablets.
Otherwise, customers place their order ahead of time through a website or mobile app and, upon arrival, retrieve their order from one of several digital cubbies on the restaurant’s back wall.
The Box’d model meant more employees working behind-the-scenes to manage and prepare orders and in turn, increased output for the restaurant.
“Because we have so many of those cubbies and need the capacity to deliver more orders, we were actually able to have 35 per cent more workers, but three times as many sales,” Fakih adds.
Fakih sees potential in using this model to simplify food services while creating jobs and boosting value for the customer.
“I prefer to cut costs on decor and space and if we can coordinate multiple brands, it means better service. A whole food court could be built this way and has been in some places,” Fakih says.
Fakih believes commitment to community building is in his DNA, recounting that his father had to travel to Syria for flour, which the family used to share bread with the entire neighbourhood. “Believe me when I say that success is purpose and not just money!” Fakih says.
Fakih believes the current business landscape needs his type of ethic, especially as the pandemic has brought the realization that, “We are all dependent on each other’s health and prosperity.”
“CEOs should be leaders and stop worrying about shareholders who might be afraid that saying something is too political and at a risk to profit. You don’t want to be held hostage that way,” Fakih says.
Standing up for staff and the communities where they live and work is crucial to building trust and a thriving business for Fakih.
“Your staff and your customers are watching you,” he says. “Customers aren’t supporting businesses blindly anymore. They support those that are good to their staff and good to their community.”