Nfld. & Labrador

Globetrotting entrepreneur plans to stay in N.L. to build his business

Egyptian-born oil engineer Sameh Ibrahim is also a budding local restaurateur.

Oil engineer Sameh Ibrahim is also a budding restaurateur

Sameh Ibrahim, left, owns Big Bite Pita in Churchill Square with his business partner, Emad El Awwad. (Ted Blades/CBC)

It can be tough juggling two jobs, so imagine those jobs are in different countries, on different sides of the planet. 

That's life for engineer-cum-restaurateur Sameh Ibrahim, who splits his time between leading a team with Middle Eastern oil company Schlumberger and managing his restaurant in St. John's. 

"This is my homeland, actually," said the Egyptian-born Ibrahim. "This is officially my homeland. I'm an international, mobile engineer, and I'm trying to come here in the next few years."

Ibrahim and his business partner own Big Bite Pita in Churchill Square, a place to find a mix of Middle Eastern food like shawarma and Canadian classics like poutine — sometimes in the same dish.

"Blowing your mind when you taste the shawarma — sizzling shawarma — with poutine, and the gravy and the cheese," said Ibrahim of one of their bestselling signature dishes. 

Ibrahim says the shawarma poutine is one of their best-selling, signature dishes. (Big Bite Pita/Facebook)

Born in Egypt, Ibrahim studied engineering at Memorial University 15 years ago, before picking up work in Dubai. 

He spends a good part of the year there now, but his business partner stays to take care of the food and manage the restaurant while he's gone. 

The spice is almost like 14 spices, and it's very, very expensive.- Sameh Ibrahim

Ibrahim says he wanted to offer people in St. John's something they couldn't get anywhere else in the city. 

"The taste is different, also the style for the restaurant — it's a homemade food, but an environmental fast-food style," he said.

He says everything from the meat to the rice is made just like in a home kitchen, which means it's not always as easy as it could be in the Middle East. 

"The spice is almost like 14 spices, and it's very, very expensive," he said. "So you cannot even really compare — the cost of food is really, really different here, and we try to keep our prices low as we can."

He thinks it's worth it. 

"You cannot really tell someone like me, 'Eat this sandwich with just, like, plain ground … chicken with just some weird-sauce shawarma,'" he said. "No."

Growing N.L. roots 

Ibrahim has roots here now — his family lives in St. John's — but the restaurant itself is relatively new. 

First set up in the square about two years ago, it was damaged along with the rest of the buildings there during high winds and heavy rain in 2017.

Like other businesses there, Ibrahim says, they got over it, and they're hoping to get the restaurant back fully to the way it was soon.

In the meantime, they're looking at setting up another Big Bite Pita location in Mount Pearl, which he hopes will open in the summer. 

The logo, a moose munching on a Middle Eastern pita, is meant to show the combination of cultures on the restaurant's menu. (Ted Blades/CBC)

That's on top of his ambitious retirement plan — the 40-year-old wants to retire when he's 45, except maybe to run the restaurant. 

Ibrahim says they see potential in the Canadian economy, and they may expand again, maybe in a different location, maybe close to the new Galway development. 

He says he might start another business — a different business. 

But whatever he does, he plans on doing it in the province. 

"I want to enjoy Newfoundland after I come back to my home country, and my kids are here already, so we will have a retirement for sure," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go