Chris Koney’s column: Life is too short for just average food!

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Wael Halabi Hakim,

It was an unusual humid Saturday afternoon in the nation’s capital and I found myself in one of the coolest hang outs in Accra, Zen Garden. My five-year-old King Jay sat next to me in the cushioned chair directly facing Wael Halabi Hakim, our host who sat just across a table that separated us.

King Jay, was enjoying a cup of specially prepared chocolate – vanilla ice cream as I tried to catch up with Wael, a talent manager, marketing strategist and the Founder of Zen Garden. Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Wael grew up learning the fundamentals of business from his family’s successful hotel and restaurant business.

The visionary Wael believes that with ambition and determination, anything is possible. He studied Marketing at the Lebanese American University before enrolling at the Vancouver Film School for the Entertainment Business Management program. He lived in Brazil for six month where he consulted for businesses in the trade business space.

Discussing the general business climate in the country at the moment due to the devastative effect of the coronavirus pandemic, Wael highlighted the need for businesses to get more creative and find innovative ways to sustain their operations in these difficult times, especially now, after the easing of restrictions.

“Since one-third of the world’s population is on lockdown, global food security alerts have arisen. Food systems incorporate all the different stages of food production from farm to fork – processing, distribution and preparation activities. The lockdown has complicated the interactions among all these, however, it also a time for businesses to strategize and look out for opportunities which they can capitalize on,” he added.

Being very big on food and passionate about things that affects the creative arts and hospitality industries, Wael believes people should be daring enough to always experiment with food for life is too short to always eat just average or one type of food.

“As a matter of fact, we live to eat so why do you limit yourself to something that isn’t really fulfilling? There are savory dishes and sweet dishes, so sometimes you need something sweet like cake and at another time, you will want to have a pizza, it’s a feeling that you get from inside. It is the experience of food, everything you eat certainly comes with a different experience,” he explained.

Food entrepreneurs explain that food is a pleasure and experience on its own and it is a must to enjoy the best of food. For Wael, as long as the food is from the heart, made with love and has a combination of some good flavors that works together, it is a must to be enjoyed.

Talking about food and its experience, Wael chronicled the success story of Zen Garden becoming one of the most patronized places in Accra and a restaurant that offers you serenity in the center of the capital city. Zen Garden in his words is “a lovely restaurant that sits quietly tucked away in an enclosed garden, providing you with indoor and outdoor seating.”

He added that “Zen garden is an experience, not just about the food but more than that. Talk about the live music, great atmosphere and lively staff trying to make every guest feel at home and cozy. Zen Garden is for everyone, from the top business executives, expatriates, diplomats, trendy and classy people to anyone who wants to have a great time. It is largely about the feeling when you come here.”

The atmosphere at Zen Garden makes it a wonderful place for all kinds of events, ranging from corporate hangouts, team building, wedding receptions or simply having drinks. The food offering is completely customizable with a wide variety of dishes ranging from international dishes to local favorites which keeps guests happy.

According to Wael, Zen Garden also takes catering orders for events and their main focus is always to help create a lasting impression at occasions and events of clients. “Our amazing dishes range from tasty burgers, light and crispy Lebanese dishes to sweet savory local dishes and pizzas. Also, the food is always fresh, hot, tasty and clients don’t have to worry because we know exactly what your guests are craving,” Wael added.

Zen Garden serves high quality food and when people walk into the premises, they are expecting to enjoy their meal. People look out for a good overall experience when they visit a restaurant and Zen Garden provides that awesome experience apart from serving good food, wonderful ambience and clean environment.

According to Wael, Zen Garden has the best vegetarian dish, falafel, which is done from the scratch. It is a marvelous meal when it is combined with a great salad like tabouleh or fatouch. The most popular dishes at Zen Garden are the Jollof Special and Seafood platter which he indicated are their best-selling.

In his concluding remarks, Wael revealed that Zen Garden was just a small idea which grew to become what it is now and didn’t start on this level. It was built block by block and isn’t a finished project yet as there are a lot of touches being added on a daily basis.

“It is a work still in progress though on a daily basis, our clients get the best of everything. I will want to take this opportunity to urge everyone out there to never give up as there is always something one can do to make things better,” he added.

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