Making the decision to pivot, to truly pivot is a proactive decision. However, it must have commitment, firm commitment to follow through without any wavering and certainly, without looking back.
As I had mentioned yesterday, today I look forward to sharing a true story of what I believe is one of the most successful pivots of our time, of these challenging times. I cannot think of a better word than ‘commitment’ to describe this story.
For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by a story of commitment that has stemmed from love of family. It’s a story of commitment to goals. It’s also a story of determination, dedication, and survival. The story I’m referring to is that of Fusun, Gonca and Arzu Esendemir. These remarkable sisters are the founders of Flatbread Grill and Thumb Bread.
Their journey as entrepreneurs began as a commitment to family. They have been faced with one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another. Yet, from the early days of difficulties with banks and landlords to the pandemic when they were preparing to open an additional location to the hard-pressed decision to pivot for survival, they have not only persevered, but they have also thrived.
I cannot do justice to their story so I will share parts of various interviews. I’m certain, you’ll agree with me that this is a heart-warming story, and one that should be shared over and over again.
It should be shared with families facing difficult times. It should be shared with all who are trying to make the American Dream of business ownership a reality for them and their families. It should be shared with all who believe they can’t depart from a life of poverty. It should be shared with all aspiring entrepreneurs who lack the confidence to move forward.
It should be shared with all current entrepreneurs who are hesitant to change direction or take their businesses to the next level. It should be shared with young women everywhere to reinforce the reality that they can do anything they put their minds to, believe in and that they’re committed to seeing all the way through to achieving their goals.
It should be shared in schools everywhere. It should be shared in a book. It should be shared in a movie. It should be shared because it’s inspiring. It should be shared because it’s real. And it should be shared because it’s needed by so many people facing challenges and not knowing how to overcome them.
For 13 Years, Nothing Has Stopped the Esendemir Sisters and Flatbread Grill was the title of an article in QSR Magazine back in December 2020. It’s when I first became aware of the Esendemir Sisters and their intriguing story. It was written by Gonca Esendemir so I knew this was a story from the heart.
“In 2007, at the height of an imminent economic recession, my sisters and I decided to open a fast-casual restaurant concept called Flatbread Grill. The three of us teamed up after our father was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Our father needed affordable health insurance to have the surgery and afford the lifetime care that came with it. He was forced into early retirement as a result of his health problems.
I was a 24-year-old college student, struggling to earn my filmmaking arts degree when my restaurant journey began. At the same time, Arzu, my younger sister, who 23, had just graduated at the top of her college class with a double degree in business management and finance. Fusun, our older sister, had taken on the responsibilities of financially supporting both our parents. That is, until her corporate job laid her off. She decided to use her passion for food to open up a restaurant. Fusun asked Arzu for help, who then asked me if I wanted to join them. There was no fancy business plan, no meticulous strategy sessions, and no hiring of outside consultants. It was just the three of us with one goal: make enough money to save our father’s life and support ourselves.
The restaurant world was nothing new to us. We grew up inside our father’s two Turkish restaurants. Fusun helped run those restaurants when she was just 13. I spent my childhood playing with Barbie dolls while watching my mother perform prep work, wash dishes, and cook alongside my father and big sister. Both Arzu and I also worked multiple service jobs, including bartending and waitressing, at various foodservice establishments, to put ourselves through college.
Despite watching our father lose his restaurants growing up, we somehow believed this was a path we could navigate successfully. Our father mortgaged his home to finance Flatbread Grill, and my sisters used whatever savings they had. If we didn’t make this restaurant work, it meant homelessness for our family. Failure was not an option.”
I read the article multiple times. I didn’t know them, but I was rooting for them. Although, I just knew in my heart they would succeed. A quote about courage came to mind…
Courage, I realized, was not the absence of fear; it was the absence of selfishness; putting someone else’s interest before one’s own. – Michelle Cohen Corasanti
I have never met any of the Esendemirs but I have connected with them on LinkedIn. Mostly, with Gonca. I love how she shares her thoughts and always responds to comments with thought. She doesn’t post just to express herself. Instead, I find that she’s sharing her story as it continues to evolve. She may not realize it, but she’s actually helping others that may be sitting on the sidelines, afraid to ask questions, to seek much needed assistance. You see, Gonca shares real-life experiences she and her sisters are living day in and day out.
Over the past two weeks or so, I’ve been sharing my thoughts on surviving the recession, whether looming on the horizon or actually here. Regardless, business owners must be prepared and take action without hesitation.
As I was gathering my thoughts for yesterday’s article, I saw that Gonca had shared a recent article about her and her sisters’ efforts as detailed in a local publication, “The Hoboken Girl”. The article, You Can Now Find Flatbread Grill’s Thumb Bread in Local Grocery Stores inspired me to write about pivoting as a proactive measure to survive challenging and uncertain times. After all, what Gonca, Arzu and Fusun had done was essentially the perfect pivot!
From the article:
“The pandemic pushed the Esendemir Sisters to shift their focus from the restaurant to their bread business. And since the trio opened their first restaurant during the recession, they knew what it was like to launch a new business in difficult times.
As Gonca said, “We go all-in on something,” and the sisters got to work securing baking equipment, a facility, and reworking the recipe to give the bread a longer shelf life. It wasn’t long before ShopRite reached out about selling Thumb Bread in its stores.
Thumb Bread is now available in select ShopRite stores across the East Coast. “Locally, you can find it in the Hoboken, Bayonne, Jersey City ShopRites. We also have other locations rolling out in the next couple of weeks,” Arzu said, including 8 NYC Gourmet Garage locations later this summer.”
Gonca shared advice in the QSR article that should resonate loud and clear to business owners everywhere. It’s quite apparent that Gonca and her sisters continue to practice what they preach.
“I can offer no magic formula other than hard work, strategic thinking, and quick decision-making, even when all seems hopeless. My sisters and I didn’t focus on “trends”—we anticipated them before they happened. We focused on continually improving our operations, watching our food costs, focusing on quality and consistency, and paying attention to the customer experience. Smaller owner-operators are almost always cash strapped. They don’t have the luxury of taking risks or a/b testing to see what works. Things have to work when they are executed because mistakes can be costly. I learned this the hard way over the past 13 years. Even a small mistake can cost thousands.”
Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!