Eat Me: creating a restaurant business that inspires
Years of travelling to explore different food cultures has led an IMD alumna to create a restaurant business whose eateries offer dishes from around the world. Skills learned during her MBA have provided Serena Shamash with the tools to inspire her staff and customers
Serena Shamash has managed to combine a love of food with her appetite for entrepreneurship. After years of travel to locales that offer the best cuisine, she and her husband have built up a list of favorite dishes. “Food memories ring true to us. We remember some of our favorite vacation moments because of the special foods that we have discovered in different destinations,” says the entrepreneur.
So, after spotting a gap in the market, Serena opened her first restaurant in 2013 in Lausanne, followed by a second in Geneva in 2018. Called Eat Me, the eateries offer fare from across the globe and are reminiscent of the owner’s travels. The varied menu includes dishes such as sea bream ceviche, slow-cooked harissa lamb chops, and tofu bao buns.
Serena believes attending the MBA program at IMD in 2007 gave her the right skills to set up on her own. “The MBA for me was a life-changing experience,” recalls the entrepreneur, “as it gave me the self-confidence to pursue my dreams, knowing that I had the personal ability as well as the right tools.”
Because Serena had an undergraduate degree in biology, she was seeking a formal business education and was attracted to IMD’s emphasis on leadership. For her, one unexpected benefit of IMD’s small size was also that she was able to develop some very strong relationships with professors and classmates, receiving emotional and intellectual support even after leaving the program.
For instance, shortly after graduating, Serena was invited to present her restaurant idea to the Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne in front of 350 potential investors, professors and students. Before the event, she happened to bump into an IMD consultant who specialized in the art of storytelling, and he offered up an afternoon to coach her.
“He was a huge support, challenging me to ask why people go to restaurants and inciting me to appeal to their senses – to make them dream,” Serena recalls, adding that the successful talk subsequently opened a lot of doors.
One of the biggest learnings Serena took away from IMD was the importance of being authentic. This self-actualization has helped her tackle her biggest challenge: keeping staff inspired.
“Inspiring staff has proved to be a challenge,” says the business owner. “Working in hospitality is a difficult job and involves a lot of effort behind the scenes that customers sometimes underestimate. Also, for many staff members, the work is often just a phase in their careers and this makes it challenging to keep the team motivated to do what they do every day.
“So, by being authentic, you are better able to inspire others. Even on a bad day, even if you are not feeling great, you don’t have to pretend – sharing your humanity gives people a reason to believe in you,” says Serena.
One source of her external motivation still comes from regularly attending IMD’s alumni club meetings in Lausanne. “They do a good job of bringing in thought-provoking speakers and I always leave these events feeling inspired, having met someone very interesting.”
Serena is also a staunch supporter of IMD’s and its Lausanne alumni club’s efforts to promote scholarships. “I was lucky to get a scholarship to attend IMD. If I hadn’t received that, I don’t know that I would have been able to afford it,” she says. “Fortunately, it worked out for me, otherwise I would have missed out on a great experience, a lot of personal development, and a vast support network that is still paying dividends today.”