It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a drastic toll on small businesses all across the Bay Area. Over 2,000 Bay Area businesses closed between March and August of 2020, with many more forced to shut their doors after the second lockdown in December. With foot traffic greatly diminished, more people working, shopping, and cooking at home, and little or no rent relief, small businesses have struggled to keep their businesses afloat. It is in spite of these harsh circumstances that many entrepreneurs have managed to preserve and sustain their businesses. Some of these successes required pivots, and others, like the Lotus Falafel & Shawerma Restaurant in Oakland and San Bruno, required digging even more deeply into what they do best.
Meet Sally Shawa (pictured left above). Originally from the Gaza Strip - Palestine, her family was forced to close their first restaurant and immigrate to the United States after the start of the Gaza War. They have been operating in the Bay Area since 2014, expressing their culture to the community through their love of food. Their story is like many in the United States, where immigrant-owned small businesses are large contributors to the economy and labor force. Immigrant entrepreneurs make up about one-quarter of new businesses in the US and more than 40% of new businesses in California. The Shawa family left the violence of war in pursuit of safety and of greater economic opportunity. Leaving home is not easy to do, and family connection has been the essential ingredient in the success of the Shawas’ restaurant.
What does Sally value most about Lotus?
“Having the opportunity to work with my family,” she said.
Throughout her journey, Sally has kept family at the forefront of her mind. Her father had been working in food since he was young, bringing a dedicated work ethic to the Bay Area even as he transitioned his children into leadership roles in the restaurant. Family owned and operated businesses can sometimes be contentious, with different studies finding different results on their long term performance (compared to non-family businesses). Most successful family businesses share certain values -- continuity, community, connections, and command, also known as the “Four Cs.” How does Lotus connect to these traits? Well, they certainly use long-term thinking. During the pandemic, they’ve had to make hard decisions around working hours, payroll, and cost reduction. But because the whole family is invested in the restaurant’s success, these tough decisions come a little more easily. The Shawas are dedicated to their community, running fundraisers to help other families even as the restaurant faces its own challenges. As a close family, they’re able to come to decisions after honest and open discussion, something that can be challenging for even the most experienced entrepreneurs. The Shawas want to maintain a sense of community when it sometimes feels like the outside world is crumbling. Looking to the future helps with this.
Sally and her family are hoping to continue to share their culture, with plans to open up more restaurant locations in the post-pandemic years to come. Their mission has always been to create great food, share their culture, and make their customers happy. You can tell this mission matters when you hear Sally speak.
“Pleasing the customers gets me up in the morning. We love it when we receive feedback, especially when it’s positive. We love giving people a little piece of back home.”
The Lotus Falafel & Shawerma Restaurant regularly hosts fundraisers to support community members in this time of need. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date!