Rani al Raji

Words by Sammy Hemmings and Rani al Raji

Photography by Havana Club

At: Beirut, Lebanon

"Normally, people go into this business to make money," says Rani al Raji, bar owner of Beirut's cocktail bar Brazzaville. "In my case, of course I want to make money, but I want to have an impact on how things are done."

Rani maintains a sustainable business, which also supports the local community. "I'm trying to establish a model, a sustainable bar, in the sense it relies on the community of people in the city of Beirut," he says.

"We recycle our glass, if the company doesn't take them first," Rani explains. "We try to force companies to take back their bottles, especially local producers. But for those we can't, such as imported bottles, we take them to artisans."

Another project initiated at Brazzaville raises money for local organisations. "We invite people for a drink and a meal for free at the bar, and the only condition is to pay anything they feel is fair. The money we collect, we give it to an association, whether it's for orphans or elderly people. With the current crisis, we're trying to do this more," Rani explains.

"In this time of hardship in Lebanon, it's becoming really hard for people," Rani says. "Lots of people, middle class people, have found themselves out of their home and on the street. This is really heart breaking...I decided to reach out to all the guests and shareholders, and almost everyone I know outside Lebanon, and we started an initiative." Rani provided immediate support to many people in need in the community by offering free meals and hopes to provide longterm support through job opportunities.

Besides the bar's sustainable ethos, Rani believes guest experience is key to their success. "We refer to our customers as guests, as we don't want to refer to them as people we serve with an artificial smile. This is not the attitude," he explains. "It's not the walls or décor, it's the fact the team have faces and names, and people come to be served by Sharm, or by Selene, or by Rani, they don't come here because it's just to another bar."

The Brazzaville bar team have the opportunity to take up shares in the business, which Rani considers a game changer. "From day one they have the opportunity to be shareholders in the bar because I want them to feel involved," he says.

And Rani insists he owes much of his success to his team. "I am honoured to be nominated for this, but I consider it as a nomination for the whole team, not a single person. We work as a unit and I could not make it without them," he says.

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