Owner and Head Chef, Kurdi's Fresh Mediterranean Grill, Kurdi Group LLC
Growing up in Jordan, Heveen Kurdi has enjoyed cooking since age 12, when she first snuck out of bed to fry a chicken and experiment with other kitchen ingredients.
Her love continued when she spent hours cooking dinner for friends and family while in the U.S. getting her bachelor’s and M.B.A. degrees. Kurdi says she was hooked on the Food Network as soon as she turned on the TV in the U.S. “That’s where it all started,” she says.
After working for a year in the health care industry, Kurdi started to feel the entrepreneurial itch. She wanted to do what she loved: She wanted to cook.
So at age 29, with no experience in the food industry or culinary arts other than the experiments in her own kitchen, Kurdi decided she would open a restaurant. She spoke to her father, who was still in Jordan, and persuaded him to let her use the rest of her savings to make her dream a reality.
Kurdi hired chefs and taught them how to cook her recipes, the chefs taught her how the restaurant business worked.
Just as she does with her dishes, Kurdi insisted on building her restaurant from scratch. She drew up the design of the space, imported the décor, crafted the logo, and selected her favorite recipes to create the menu.
“I built Kurdi’s from the ground up, and it’s been rough,” she admits. When she first created a business plan to build her restaurant, she forecasted a $250,000 investment. Unfortunately, naïve to the complexity of contractor-subcontractor relationships, Kurdi was quickly wrapped up in a lawsuit and paying double for the construction work.
Kurdi didn’t let this hurdle stop her. “I’m not going to give up, this is my baby, this is my dream,” she says. A year later than expected, costing $150,000 more than budgeted, Kurdi’s Fresh Mediterranean Grill opened its doors in June 2011.
“Most of my mistakes, I’ve learned from my own pockets,” she says. That’s why she’s a firm believer in the phrase: “Trust, but verify.”
In the last six months, Kurdi’s has paid back its debt, and is now breaking even. Kurdi says she built her restaurant with the vision of franchising it someday, and hopes to begin that process in the next couple years.
— Traci McMillan Beach
City of residence: Tampa
Birthplace: Amman, Jordan
Twitter handle: @KurdisMedGrill
Years on the Gulf Coast: Six years
Alma mater: FUI (undergraduate) and Nova Southeastern University (M.B.A.)
Favorite off-hours activity: Even though I spend most of my time at the restaurant, I still love cooking and entertaining for my friends and family.
The most important business lesson I’ve learned: Trust but verify.
Two people, dead or alive, you’d like to have dinner with: Gordon Ramsay and Suze Orman. I would love to have an in-depth discussion with Chef Ramsay about the restaurant industry and get his feedback on how to take my restaurant to the next level. I admire Suze Orman’s drive and success and would like to discuss financial and investment planning for the future.
Who would play you in a movie about your life: Absolutely me! I have a story to tell and I think I would be the best one to make people really feel what I have been through in the last 12 years and how those experiences have helped me get to where I am today.