How Suzy Karadsheh turned her passion for Mediterranean food into the successful blog and e-commerce platform, The Mediterranean Dish
Suzy Karadsheh shares with us how she turned her hobby for cooking authentic Mediterranean meals into a business, pivoting to meet customers needs, and the importance of taking breaks for yourself during the work day.
Describe your business in a few words?
The Mediterranean Dish is the leading online resource for wholesome and approachable Mediterranean recipes. With more than 600 recipes and videos, The Mediterranean Dish is the top authority for modern Mediterranean recipes with representative flavors from all over the Mediterranean, from South of Europe to North Africa and the Middle East.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was born and raised on the shores of the Mediterranean in Port Said, Egypt, and grew up with a wealth of Mediterreanean ingredients and foods visiting the local market with my father and cooking with my mother. After a career in fundraising and public relations, I decided to start The Mediterranean Dish as a hobby to document the flavors and recipes I grew up with for my daughters. I’ve always been passionate about cooking, specifically the mediterranean way, and I wanted people to join me and have it as a resource.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I moved from Egypt to the United States for school and worked in fundraising and public relations before pursuing my true passion for cooking.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, it was totally by accident! My husband actually jokes that I am an “accidental CEO.” It stemmed from my passion to share the food I grew up with and help others eat the Mediterranean way.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When I first started The Mediterranean Dish in 2014, it was simply just a hobby. It wasn’t until 2016 where I turned my attention to it full time. At that point, I had already been sharing recipes and started to steadily grow my following; Google and other search engines started to pick up on the effort I was putting in. There weren’t any other sites that were speaking to Mediterranean cooking in an authentic and accessible way. Our strategy was, and still is, to serve our audience by offering easy and approachable recipes, ideas, and articles on how to live the Mediterranean lifestyle.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I make mistakes every day! One of my earliest mistakes was not thinking of The Mediterranean Dish as a business. For two years, I was just doing this as a hobby. Because I didn’t think about it strategically, I was late to the game on learning how to build a blog and grow my following. In 2016, honed in on learning food photography and social media, and it was a hard learning curve. I was lucky that I quickly recovered but it still took hours of blood, sweat and tears to learn.
Also, I made the mistake of trying to do everything myself, which has burdened me to this day. We’re now looking at expanding our team to help manage the business. It is important to team up with people who can do a specific skill better than you can.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am proud to say that I finally took the plunge to write my own cookbook that is coming out in 2022. I am working with an amazing publisher who is helping me bridge a much needed gap in the Mediterranean cookbook space. I am also proud that The Mediterranean Dish is the leader in this category; it’s become a way for me to share my own recipes with the world, and ultimately highlight other experts in the Mediterranean food.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
We hire based on the candidate’s personality and soft skills, as opposed to hard learn skills. For example, hire someone who is authentic and willing to learn, and truly wants to dig in and grow, as we’re in such a nimble industry. We’ll go the extra mile to bring this type of person on board.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’re some of the lucky ones, as the pandemic, for better or worse, has forced people to look into their pantries, look into how they cook and invest time into their own meals. We had a good uptick of people visiting our site, as people are looking to eat more simply and wholesome ingredients.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
I am releasing my first cookbook in Spring of 2022 with more than 100 new recipes! We’re also expanding our e-commerce page, which has become a one stop shop for Mediterranean ingredients. We’re excited to see where the business can grow and how we can continue to serve more people who visit our site.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Pivot, and pivot quickly! Our focus was not about creating brand new content, but creating relevant content to meet customers’ needs during this tough year.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I knew I couldn’t do it all, and brought on a team to help me earlier. I would be in a different place both mentally and also from a business perspective.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I learned to take a step back when approaching the work day. I want to make sure I spend more time with my daughters and make sure my work is serving someone. I am focused on being service oriented, and learn where I can fill the gap to help someone and everything else falls into place.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in it, but haven’t done it very well! I’ve been working on making sure I have particular business hours and use those to get things done and have a hard stop. I try to keep a shorter, focused to-do it. I also try to exercise and move every day, even 5 minutes is better than nothing.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I love to take some time and plan for the week. I plan what my week will look like and every day I write my short list of priorities for the next day. I go to bed and have a better chance of getting those things done.
Take a break when you need to. Even if it is just 10 minutes and a walk around the block to get some fresh air and clear your head.
Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, a true lifesaver!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It really means a willingness to serve and help others. I’ll find new ways to bring forth what people need, and innovate to make that happen.