If you say that name in North Cyprus everyone knows who you are talking about. He’s an entrepreneur and a living legend.
It wasn’t always the case though. Anibal started by cycling around town and selling sandwiches from his bike in the 1950s. From there he started a restaurant as most restaurateurs do, working hard, creating a dining atmosphere, and creating the best food possible. He has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into it through wars, having children and grandchildren, and even a few wives.
Anibal gets up around 4am daily to prepare for his daily customers.
Why so early? First, good food takes time to prepare. Second, his specialty barbecues and Döner (rotating meat) take a lot of time to prepare. I doubt any fast food Döner places in Europe make their own Döner. It’s always bought from the outside, sacrificing quality and taste. He layers the meat on, layer after layer, to make sure his customers get nothing but the best.
From the first time I went to his restaurant I was impressed. Though the building is nothing impressive, he is. His presence is intense. You can tell he is a no-nonsense kind of guy, but there are chinks in his armor when he finds an opportunity to make a joke.
The first time I went I had a Döner kebab and it was amazing. We ate in the restaurant and I saw Anibal come out and speak to some customers. It didn’t sound like Turkish though, so I asked my friend. He said he was speaking Greek. You see, despite looking like he’s in his 50’s, he’s actually in his 80’s and is part of the old, often bi-lingual cadre of Cypriots from yesteryear.
I was lucky enough to join my friend’s family tradition to go there every Saturday – and each visit led to a funny experience.
There was the time I asked for a picture and when he put his arm around me it kind of found its natural resting place right on my butt. He’s shorter so it just kind of happened, and since my butt is so flat he probably just assumed it was my back.
There was the time he gave us some locally-produced sweets and said it would give us “power” at night. His gestures can’t be put into words, but use your imagination.
He also invited us for drinks and a party on the eve of his summer vacation. It’s strange to say, but it was a really nice gesture on his part to invite us and I felt a bit honored.
There are two takeaways I got from Anibal as I brainstormed in Cyprus about the business I want to start.
First, age is in the mind. When I saw him in his restaurant working, managing things, and taking orders, he is totally in his element. I thought he was 50 at best. He’s more than 30 years older than 50 though, his dyed hair the only concealer of his age. He has energy, stamina, and determination. At the age of 31 myself, what kind of stamina and determination do I have? To succeed, you need to have a lot of both.
Second, Anibal cares about his customers. Given how small the community is here, they are almost all repeat customers. He asks how they are doing and what is happening in their lives.
On a busy day an older lady came in and placed an order. A few seconds after placing her order she became temporarily irate as no one asked her how she was doing. She was having a particularly bad day as her mom had fallen and they had to go to the hospital. I guess she just needed to get it off her chest, but this shows partly the culture of close-knit Cyprus as well as the relationship Anibal has with his customers.
Having studied business, customer relations is quite important since it’s so much more expensive to attract new customers than to retain current ones. Anibal is human and offers his ear while preparing excellent food. Sometimes that’s all you need. Be a human. Listen. Treat people with respect. Show gratitude. But these qualities are rapidly disappearing in today’s modern, multi-national company society. The human touch is important, more so than we realize.