Expat Entrepreneurs: The Story of Horus and Feteer

Melis Karabulut’s series profiles some of Brno’s foreign entrepreneurs to explore the challenges of running a business in a foreign country. This week, she profiles Horus, an authentic piece of Egypt in the center of Brno. Photo credit: MK / BD.

The authentic Middle Eastern taste is only now getting some recognition in Brno’s international gastronomy scene. Middle Eastern food is misunderstood by many as hard-to-digest and meat-based, and most people only know the most popular options available anywhere in Europe such as kebab or falafel. Being a Eurasian myself, I guarantee my readers that there is so much more to discover and appreciate about this type of cuisine, as it combines the fresh and light taste of the Mediterranean and the spicy-sweetness of the East with many variations unique to the different countries in the region. Islam Elshamy’s new Egyptian restaurant Horus is in town to serve this aim and need, as the diners of Brno should not miss out on this Egyptian version of the inclusiveness and richness of Middle Eastern food!

Horus opened in late August 2021 in the city center, offering some of the most traditional Egyptian dishes like Feteer and several other well-known foods from the region such as kofta, grilled meat, kebab, hummus, mutabbal, and tzatziki, along with some traditional drinks and desserts. Horus has a well-balanced and tasteful combination of what belongs to Egypt, and what belongs to the broader region. Though the restaurant is small, it is still possible to order and eat directly at the premises, or to get food to take away. The prices are very reasonable and worth your money considering the size of the portions and the quality of the food.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”425″ gal_title=”Horus serves various well-known foods from the Middle East such as kofta, grilled meat, kebab, hummus, mutabbal and tzatziki. Photo credit: Horus.”]

The restaurant’s signature product is Feteer, a very traditional food to Egypt. Egyptians say that Feteer is one of the oldest recipes in the world, going back to Pharaonic times. “What pizza is to Italians, Feteer is to Egyptians,” says Mr. Elshamy, emphasising its importance in local Egyptian culture. Feteer consists of a thin layer of phyllo dough filled with a choice of filling, and there are many different options. Mr. Elshamy’s menu includes savoury Feteer with pastrami, cheese, minced meat, or salami, as well as sweet versions, prepared with dates, sugar, cream, and nutella. People of the region would definitely find a piece of home in Feteer as the taste is similar to Arabic, Turkish or Balkan food, and it truly deserves to be the next candidate of internationally acclaimed recipes!

“What pizza is to Italians, Feteer is to Egyptians.” — Islam Elshamy. Credit: Horus.

Horus takes its name from Egyptian mythology, and symbolizes the God of the Sun, a symbol that owner Mr. Elshamy wears around his neck every day as a source of power and belief in his business. The story of Horus and Mr. Elshamy is, like the Egyptian God of the Sun, enchanting.

Mr. Elshamy is a well-trained, experienced chef from Alexandria, Egypt, who moved to the Czech Republic in 2013. His first motivation for relocation was to reunite with his ex-wife, who was Czech, but they separated a short while after Islam’s arrival. Going through many difficulties with visa, documentation, jobhunting, and accommodation in Brno, and getting used to a new country without the possibility of returning to a successful life in Egypt, he has been through the hard mill. “Egypt already had a lot of problems of its own when I came to the Czech Republic. Once you lost your job, you lost everything. I made a choice to come to Europe, and going back to my country would mean being unemployed and in a lot of trouble. I had to stand on my own feet and fight,” he says.

When he was struggling to find a job in Brno, he sought to connect with the Arab community in Brno to ask for suggestions or help to sustain his life here. To his luck, another Egyptian restaurant owner offered him a job and Islam started working there. Later on, he found a better position at a Syrian-owned restaurant where Lucia Horánska, his current fiancee, was working as a bartender. They have been in a dedicated, supportive relationship for the last eight years. “My life changed when I found my angel,” he says, “she supported me in every step I took, and stood by me in ups and downs.”

Islam and Lucie. Credit: MK / BD.

As the couple worked together at the same restaurant for a long while, they developed their dreams of bigger and better opportunities in the culinary industry. One day at the end of 2016, by complete surprise, they saw a job opening at the Brno Marriott Hotel for a senior position, and Islam encouraged Lucie to go for the job as he thought she would have a stronger chance for the position, as a speaker of the local language. As Lucie succeeded in her job at the Marriott while still a bachelor’s student, she did not forget about her partner’s career and got him a position at the Marriott as a chef, where he worked for five years.

Before he moved to Brno, Islam already had considerable experience as a chef working at big hotel chains in Egypt, such as Marriott, Hilton, Four Seasons and Sheraton. Accordingly he was quite familiar with the hotel industry and the workflow of a professional kitchen. His experience and Lucie’s support helped him to thrive. “I owe Marriott a lot, as I learned so many things and I was welcomed and supported by the other employees there. Even though I fully appreciate my work experience there, deep down I still had the dream of opening up a restaurant and making it my own. At the same time, I didn’t know exactly what kind of restaurant I would open and what I would offer to people, so it took me a long while to think about it, plan it, and put it into action. Later on I came up with the idea of the Feteer, which is something that is unique to Egypt, and not any other Middle Eastern country. Since we share a common culture, food and language and there were already some restaurants offering mainstream Arabic food, I wanted to be the person who brings something that has never been brought to the Czech Republic before,” he says, underlining that he has always had the ideal of opening his own restaurant at some point in his career, and Horus became his first attempt, as something he deeply cares about.

The kitchen at Horus. Photo credit: MK / BD.

I ask Mr. Elshamy about the difficulties he has faced in making his business dreams come true: “During the lockdown, I started to test out various recipes of Feteer and share them with my Czech and international friends in Brno. Their very positive feedback gave me the motivation to start looking for a place to rent as a restaurant more seriously. I believed in the idea that it would be successful. Later on, we took a loan from a bank to start the business up, and we eventually did open the restaurant, though I cannot say that it has been easy. We have been through difficulties in finding a suitable place, finding products, attracting customers, and marketing the restaurant. I can say that the business has been going fine, but of course, we would like to see it thrive. Lucie and I have been working hard on all of these, and my fiance is still working at a hotel in a senior role, but we definitely would appreciate more customers tasting our products by visiting us in person,” he says, mentioning a challenge that is troubling many business owners – the delivery issue.

Just like many other business owners that I have met in Brno, Mr. Elshamy’s business has been negatively influenced by the increasing demand for food delivery options in the culinary sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While working with delivery partners is one of the backbones of foreign and Czech businesses, there are heartbreaking facts that should be understood by the consumers, which would eventually and gradually cause a change in their purchasing habits. “We spend thousands of Czech crowns for the packaging of our products per week for the delivery services, and we don’t charge the customers for the packaging, as this would make people choose other restaurants that do not charge. And also, since we would like to keep the packaging as ecological as possible; we always order paper packaging, which is more expensive. In addition, considering the partnership share of the delivery services that many business owners like us are also troubled with, we are looking forward to welcoming customers back again to the premises of our business. We would be delighted to have a bigger place to host more customers, and we hope that this will happen in the near future. Until then, we invite the people of Brno to taste Feteer or any of the other Middle Eastern food we cook.”

Horus can be found on Minoritská 476/12, just a few steps from Zelny Trh. The restaurant is open everyday except for Sundays, usually from 11 am to 9 pm.

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