Downtown restaurateur has some Family Day wisdom

An Egyptian man in Sudbury put aside the career he thought he wanted for the family that he needs in his life.

Muhammad Mahran quit his job as an engineer to be an entrepreneur, spend more time with kids

Muhammad Mahran and his wife Joanne Jenkins own and run the Cairo Cafe in Sudbury. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

Muhammad Mahran sacrificed a job he thought he wanted for the family he needed in his life.

"Engineering, I was making better money of course, but now I see people, I've built a good network of friends, people I know all over the city," says Mahran. "I would say I'm happier now."

Mahran and his wife Joanne Jenkins own Cafe Cairo, a small Egyptian restaurant close to downtown Sudbury. The couple has run the business for two years, and business keeps growing.

But getting here wasn't an easy road.

Mahran was an engineer when he and Jenkins first moved to Canada. He worked in Sudbury, but travelled across Canada for business. He says he'd be gone for weeks at a time, and would hardly get to see his two children even when he was here. 

From engineer to restaurateur

So after a few years of trying to make things work, Mahran says he and Jenkins decided to make a change. Mahran quit his engineering job, and opened up Cairo Cafe.

"I spent nine years in university, and I love to study," Mahran says. "I didn't enjoy the work as much. To give that all up and do something completely different, it wasn't easy."

But as the couple got the hang of running a restaurant, their stress levels dropped - especially since they were able to spend time with their son Zane and daughter Paisley.

Baby gate in the dining room

"When we first started, we had a baby gate here. We used to come in the morning, have the baby gate so the kids were in the front so they can't get hurt or injured at the back," says Mahran. 

"But I don't see them very often now because they're in school. I'm here at eight, I'm back at seven. But there's a silver lining to that, too. They can come here anytime and see me."

Cairo Cafe's customer base has grown significantly since it opened two years ago. This couple came in after hearing about the restaurant online. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

'Family comes first'

The restaurant is gaining popularity in Sudbury. At one point, Mahran tried to extend his hours to accommodate more customers. But then work started to impede on his family time again.

"We extended hours, but it didn't work for us because I always ended up working. I even tried to do breakfast for a couple of days and ended up staying here until midnight," says Mahran. "Family comes first."

Jenkins says she and her husband make decisions together, no matter what. But the joint decision to create a business together created individual problems.

"When we first opened, we thought we'd have our kids here all the time and do whatever we want because it's our business, but that's not reality," says Jenkins.

"You can' have your kids running around when there are customers here. And ​Muhammad...doesn't get home until after seven most nights, so I try to keep the kids up a little bit later so they can have a little bit of quality time with him. Those are challenges I don't think we anticipated."

Muhammad Mahran says he hated the cold near the end of his engineering career. Now, he's the one welcoming his customers with hot food on chilly days. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

'Family to me is...'

When Mahran and Jenkins look to the future, they say they're not sure if Cairo Cafe still exists. The two say it's a "phase in their life," that they're trying out. But they're confident their family is just as strong.

"Family to me is when I play, after being very tired, a chess game with Zane. It's when Paisley comes to me and says you're my best friend. Family is when Joanne says thank you for letting me stay home and raise our kids," Mahran says.

"Family to me is Joanne, Zane and Paisley."