Qutaiba Hassoon grew up in the restaurant business, helping out as a teen at Haggarty’s, a popular Portland, Maine, neighborhood restaurant owned by his father, Saeed Saeed, that served Brit-Indi and Middle Eastern cuisine until 2014. After graduating from the University of Southern Maine in 2018 with a degree in marketing, Qutaiba left the food business, and Maine, for a job in Massachusetts.
A few years later, Qutaiba decided to return home to Maine (a move known colloquially as a “boomerang”) to look for his next opportunity. He had always wanted to be a business owner, but wasn’t sure what kind of business he wanted to run. When Saeed told his son he was interested in starting a new restaurant, but faced challenges due his English skills, Qutaiba found the opportunity he was looking for.
The father and son made a deal: both would contribute financially to the business, with Qutaiba as the owner and operator of the business and Saeed developing recipes and running the kitchen. At his father’s suggestion, Qutaiba connected with Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) for business advice through StartSmart, a program that provides business development support to Maine’s immigrant community. Nine years earlier, Saeed accessed business advice and financing from CEI to launch and grow Haggerty’s.
Qutaiba and Saeed had their eyes on a high-visibility location on Forest Avenue, but in order to build out a commercial kitchen, the space required lots of new equipment and many inspections. After engaging with city staff members frequently, Qutaiba jokes that the “the City of Portland knows me by name now.”
CEI’s support was key on two fronts: StartSmart helped Qutaiba manage the intricacies of permits and licensing, as well as connecting him to potential contractors and suppliers; while CEI’s lending team stepped forward with a Wicked Fast loan to finance the necessary kitchen equipment.
“Whenever I had a question or something I didn’t know, I reached out,” Qutaiba said. “CEI was always very responsive.” Qutaiba also praised his landlord for supporting changes to the space to meet the business’s needs and the city’s requirements.
After months of installation, including some supply chain delays, Falafel Time opened in early October 2021, offering a menu of authentic Iraqi falafel, beef and chicken kebabs, and pizza, with gluten-free, vegetarian and halal options available for eat-in or takeout. Though only a few weeks old, the business has a steady stream of customers and positive online reviews. Several of the first customers were former Haggarty’s fans, who came after seeing writeups in the Portland Phoenix and Press Herald celebrating the family’s food legacy. Qutaiba’s mother will soon be joining her husband and son in the kitchen as well, making this a true family operation.
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CEI offers a wide range of assistance to emerging and existing business owners. Through one-on-one consultation, training, workshops, seminars, peer networks and other services, CEI helps individuals across the state get the information they need to start or expand their business. In addition to providing general business assistance, CEI has programs for women; marine-related businesses; farms; ag and food businesses; and refugees and immigrants.
Check out the full range of CEIs Business Advising offerings at https://www.ceimaine.org/advising