Simply Flo is an Auchterarder-based business specialising in authentic Lebanese cuisine. It was set up by Florence Gebara, a Lebanese national living in Scotland, in late 2015.
Flo is passionate about cooking and extols the virtues of Lebanese food, describing it as tasty, healthy and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Her business allows her to indulge that passion and since first attending farmers’ markets in 2018, has grown to become a popular and regular feature on the market circuit in central Scotland.
Her husband Paul, who is also self-employed, attended a GrowBiz event in Auchterarder and since then the couple have attended networking events run by the community-based rural enterprise support organisation and have also had one-to-one support from some of the team of enterprise facilitators.
Flo started the business after she was introduced to a delicatessen owner in Auchterarder in late 2015. The owner wanted authentic, locally-produced with local ingredients, homemade and healthy food to sell in their deli.
Flo takes up the story: “At the same time, I wanted to continue my passion for from-the-heart-cooking of authentic Lebanese food for my family, and friends, but was finding it hard to find all the ingredients in Scotland.
“Lebanese people are known to be extremely hospitable and loving people, and this is often demonstrated with food. Anyone visiting a Lebanese in their home is offered something to eat by the hostess and a Lebanese hostess considers she has not prepared enough food if all the food is eaten - so food is prepared in large quantities and there are many different dishes.”
The enterprise journey
Three years later, the deli owner decided to close her business. Undeterred, Flo’s husband suggested that they try selling food at farmers’ markets.
Their first market was in Perth, and Flo says that while introducing Lebanese vegetarian and vegan food to the market was well received, they were met with some scepticism as they were a new stall and people questioned whether they would be back.
She says: “The business only started growing in 2019. We started to receive requests to participate in other markets, we put a social media strategy in place, and word of mouth recommendations all helped the business to slowly gain momentum and grow organically.”
Flo also says that throughout her enterprise journey there has been a lot of trial and error, particularly in terms of finding the right local suppliers who can ensure consistent and continuously high-quality products.
“That has been and can still at times be very challenging. Finding recyclable and environmentally friendly containers that do not leak is also still challenging, and I continue to search for them.”
Along the way, mother-of-three Flo has been grateful for the support of a number of people, not least of which is her husband Paul and their family, friends and neighbours.
She also says that the community of traders at markets are another source of support, commenting: “Farmers markets are great for building relationships with other traders, which can help minimise the number of mistakes you make and which helps to build and increase the number of regular customers you get.’
GrowBiz offered “sound advice, support and feedback”, she says, adding that she would “absolutely” recommend the service to other rural entrepreneurs.
Looking to the future
Flo says that “having customers comparing the taste, standard and quality of my food to the best places to eat, and best Lebanese restaurants” is her greatest achievement to date but that she is keen to continue to expand her business.
She is looking into outside catering and events, and potentially combining the food aspect with her other passion - balloon decorations for events such as graduations, birthday parties, christenings and weddings.
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