Sitting with Omar Kasim at his organic cold-pressed juice bar, I got the scoop on his comeback, as well as the process of building Juice Palm in the wake of losing Con Quesos a year ago.
Con Quesos had originally started out as Omar’s honors thesis, which he accelerated into a full-blown business plan. Upon pitching his idea, he realized that this was something that he could jump into head-on. In need of capital, he connected with an investor that had a strong background in franchising and the restaurant world. In its first year of business, Con Quesos flourished, winning accolades left and right. From being listed as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in Fayetteville” on TripAdvisor, to being “Best New Restaurant” runner-up, Con Quesos was quickly becoming a hot spot in the city. After such a successful year, Omar met with his investor to renegotiate their agreement in the hopes of expanding. Rather than renegotiate a deal, the discussion resulted in a hostile takeover – Omar was effectively relieved of all managerial duties and pushed out of his business. Omar said that, while the takeover was hard to handle, he had seen it coming. With Omar out of the business, quality quickly fell to the wayside, with the unnamed investor foregoing the finer details that made Con Quesos unique. Omar could only watch as quality spiraled down due to high turnover and customer service falling out of focus.
After the hostile takeover, Omar took some time to soul search. Rather than taking a job at a larger corporate company, he rekindled his entrepreneurial flame. He had been conceptualizing a juice bar, and came to build Juice Palm in Uptown Fayetteville. His idea was so well-received by the community that Omar had actually signed a lease in the 8th Street Market in Bentonville – before even opening his first location.
In March of this year, Con Quesos’ investor reached out to Omar – basically the business was insolvent. It needed an influx of capital just to keep the doors open. Omar met with the investor and walked away sole proprietor of Con Quesos. He told me that the decision to take back Con Quesos was initially unappealing, but the thought of being able to take a dwindling business and make it successful again was what got him on board. Not to mention, the business in question was like his first child.
He had put blood, sweat and tears into building Con Quesos, and he had brought it to its peak – it can only go up from here.
While still running Juice Palm, Omar has fallen back into Con Quesos with a passion to bring it back to its former glory. He met with the staff, restructuring and re-organizing the restaurant. By focusing on the 3 C’s: cleanliness, customer service and consistency, Omar believes that Con Quesos will be back on top.
Splitting his time between his two businesses has been a challenge, and he often pulls 16 – 18 hour days. Omar explained that Juice Palm, while successful, is still in its infancy stage. With such a heavy customer focus, he has to make sure that staff and customers alike are educated on the variety of products offered. Omar is still at Con Quesos every day to help with rushes, plus it helps to show that he’s back, and is making things better. Omar was welcomed back by older employees, offering to come and work with him again, and even vendors, who, upon hearing he’d returned, offered to extend pay schedules to help cash flow. A testament to his leadership and positivity, maintaining these positive relationships (in business and in life) is not only the right thing, but the practical thing to do.
Omar hopes to have Con Quesos restructured and running smoothly soon, especially with plans to build another Juice Palm. The second location, in the 8th Street Market, is scheduled to open in October. In addition to managing two Juice Palms and Con Quesos, Omar will also be teaching an upper-level entrepreneurship class at the University in the fall. Why did he sign up for all of this, you might ask? Omar loves the restaurant world, and is excited to be a part of the students’ journey. He’s looking forward to helping others chase their dreams, even though it’s exhausting on his part. “As an entrepreneur, you always say ‘yes’ to opportunity.” Omar left me with a short story relevant to his journey – the lobster story. A lobster is a soft creature with a hard exterior shell. Once a lobster outgrows its shell, it sheds it and grows a new one. Discomfort is what allows a lobster to grow – if the lobster didn’t feel uncomfortable, it would never grow. He may be sleeping less than the recommended 8 hours a night, but as he put it, “Sleep doesn’t matter when you’re living the dream.”
Con Quesos is a fast casual fusion taco restaurant based in Fayetteville offering traditional Mexican cuisine tacos as well as fusion options from around the world. Juice Palm is a cold-pressed juice bar located in the Uptown Fayetteville Apartments & Shops offering pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls and salads made using only USDA-Certified Organic products.
Sarah Van Doorn
Sarah is a Content Strategist at Startup Junkie. Currently a senior at the University of Arkansas, she’s studying Journalism with an emphasis in Advertising and Public Relations. Sarah assists in content creation through writing client feature stories and managing the promotion of the Startup Junkies Podcast. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and playing Mario Kart.