Ammar Soltan arrived in Malta from Libya on a one-way trip with €100 to his name. Since then, he has gone from hauling bags of cement on construction sites to leading eeetwell, the international health food brand he created in 2015.
When he arrived in Malta at the age of 19, Ammar Soltan had nothing more than a plan and fierce determination to succeed. Upon his arrival, he rented a room, bought enough supplies to get by for a month, and got a job in the construction industry.
“I carried bricks and cement, and it was there that I became determined to build something bigger,” he recalls. “I saved money and waited for the right moment to start creating small businesses, but I also remained heavily involved in construction. I wanted to work my way up the ladder through start-ups.”
The success of his fledgling companies offered Ammar invaluable insight into what sets ordinary businesses apart from successful ones. “I learnt how to find a niche and create something from scratch. But, most importantly, I realised that the connection you forge with your team is the most important aspect of any business,” he shares. “Then, in 2015, I had the idea of launching the first eeetwell in Paceville. I, quite literally, built it brick by brick and mixed the first smoothie myself, so that particular outlet remains very close to my heart.”
In the eight years since then, eeetwell has become synonymous with healthy, sustainable food that works hand in hand with local communities. There are now 23 outlets across Malta, Belgium, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. Ammar and his team have won over Maltese customers by working closely with local farmers and using seasonal produce, highlighting local ingredients and being present at Maltese events to bring local products directly to customers. “Our clientele has become increasingly interested in the ingredients we use and where we source them from, in the macronutrients they provide, and in whether the food is a superfood or processed,” says Ammar.
In response to this interest, eeetwell provides calorific and other nutritional information about its products. “I believe in empowering our customers and it’s wonderful to see them so interested in understanding their food and the value that additional knowledge about it can bring,” says Ammar, whose passion for fostering healthier eating habits is matched by his commitment to sustainability.
Food is the single biggest choice we make every day that not only impacts our lifestyle and bodies but also the world around us,” says the entrepreneur. “By choosing a diet that includes sustainably sourced, healthy and seasonal food, we are taking action for the benefit of our health and our planet.” In their effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible, Ammar and his team meet with local farmers to discuss which products are in season; then, they brainstorm with their chefs in each country to create dishes that maximise nutrition while leaving as minimal a carbon footprint as possible.
Like all successful entrepreneurs, Ammar recognises the importance of surrounding himself with people who bring to the table talents he does not have. “I feel deeply connected to a quote by Steve Jobs that says that it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. Instead, hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. At eeetwell, I’m building a team that’s like family to me, and with a large family come some hiccups,” he shares. “However, I want everyone to feel that they can come to me with any issue they may be facing, whether personal or work-related. I’m not an expert in my team members’ respective domains, but I am an expert in solving issues quickly, and I’m always ready to help.”
Ammar finds great satisfaction in seeing his team grow and be proactive. “These days, I spend more time finding new talent than telling my employees what to do. I get immense satisfaction from sitting in a meeting and being taught something new by my team,” he admits. “My biggest challenge, as well as my measure of success, is finding the best people to work with every day.”
Although time for his personal life is limited, Ammar feels it is a sacrifice worth making. There have been many moments he is now proud of, like having his first customer try eeetwell’s recipes back in 2015, making the first profit after one year, onboarding the first franchisee in 2018, and opening the first outlet abroad in Belgium a year later. “Eventually, we opened our first outlet at The Dubai Mall, which is the world’s biggest shopping centre and is located near the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa,” he remarks. “If there ever was a location to match our ambitions, this was it!”
However, not even a thriving business like Ammar’s could dodge the challenges brought on by the pandemic and the subsequent curveballs in 2022. “Put simply, we have learnt a lot. Like many, we were faced with very tough decisions that impacted not just the business but also the people we work with and their families. However, I’m delighted to say we kept all our staff,” says Ammar. “One week before the pandemic struck, we started work on our Belgian store but had to completely shut down after one week. It was extremely difficult on us, but we stepped up to the challenge and came up with new ideas and operational strategies. A few weeks later, we were back on the market stronger than ever, even reaching the top spot on a food delivery app in Belgium.”
The past couple of years have also affected the way Ammar approaches his role and how eeetwell operates. “I’ve learnt not to take anything for granted and that we should appreciate what we have, especially the people around us and the time we can spend with them,” he shares. “Since the pandemic, we have also rethought our shops’ layout. The five new outlets that we opened during this time are more driven towards delivery and pick-up so as to maintain a physical distance while still giving our clients access to undeniably fresh food.”
Although eeetwell has expanded from a single outlet in Paceville to many more all over Malta and in Milan, Antwerp and Dubai, Ammar has his sights set further afield. “We receive requests to open franchises all over Europe and other continents, and we have big plans for the future,” he says. “I have always had a global vision for the brand but, as we expand, our key philosophy is localisation on an international scale. We saw during COVID-19 that relying on imported products limits your business, so now we work with local producers, chefs and marketing teams to create a micro circular economy in each country.”
Adapting their menus to the tastes and products of each location is a big challenge as eeetwell grows, but Ammar only sees opportunity where others see obstacles. “I want eeetwell to become the leading health food franchise in central Europe. But most of all, I want to change the way people think about food,” he concludes.
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders
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