Starting a business takes perseverance and hard work. That is especially true in a foreign country with different business practices and a new language, like Syrian refugee Zaher Batal has done.
Like many Syrians, the ongoing war forced Mr Batal and his family to flee to neighbouring Lebanon in 2011, where he first gained experience as a business owner.
“I had a pizza shop in Lebanon with the same name. I had plenty of customers and many of those customers were Australian people, who visited Lebanon and would come to my shop. They told me, ‘if you open in Australia with the same pizza, we’ll come to you’,” he said.
Now the proud owner of Miami Pizza in Bankstown, Mr Batal said it hasn’t all been smooth sailing since he resettled in Australia with his wife and two children in June 2014.
“Before opening this store, I worked for two months in a Turkish kebab store for a low wage. I wanted to find out how people think here and what they like. I didn’t want to open a shop with no idea, because it’s a different country,” he said.
Mr Batal wasn’t familiar with Australian pizza menu staples like ‘Meatlovers’ and ‘Supreme’ pizzas but gradually, through customer feedback, a menu revamp and his own field research, he found success with his new business.
“Everything in the beginning is very hard," he said. "In Syria, in Lebanon, in Australia — everything is hard. But when you start, you find that you can do it. Everybody has to do it themselves though; you can’t wait for someone else to do it for you. A small start is better than nothing."
Settlement Services International (SSI) supported Mr Batal and his family during their initial settlement in Australia, helping them to access essential services, providing accommodation assistance, and supporting the family to develop their independence.
“When I wanted to make a business, I called SSI," Mr atal said. "They sent me to a four-day course in Parramatta on how to start a business. Then they connected me with a business advisor, who helped me to learn how I can start a business.
“About a week ago, someone from SSI called me just seeing what I need and how I’m feeling. It’s important to have someone who cares how you feel. It makes me more comfortable knowing I have people behind me.”
While things are going well for Mr Batal, he’s still living with daily reminders of what life is like for his friends and family who remain in Syria.
“I feel sad and when you have sad feelings, it makes it hard to work. Sometimes I’m working but my mind is on my family and Syria,” he said.
Just recently, however, Mr Batal received the good news that his mother, father and brother will be joining him in Australia, and he hopes they will help him achieve his goal of turning Miami Pizza into a franchise.
“It’s hard, but not impossible. It will need hard work and time to make it happen,” he said.