Meet Labinot Krasniqi in Conversations with Celeri Network. We had the pleasure to discuss in detail his entrepreneurial journey as a restaurant business owner. In Kosovo, Labinot owns a variety of restaurants. He shares, his father was the biggest inspiration to join the hospitality industry. Being an expert and successful European restaurant business, he is currently the chief director and co-founder at Bon vivant. He also worked as a chocolatier, with Raaka Chocolate a New York (NYC) based chocolate company in Brooklyn. An interesting insight on chocolate he shares, his experience was very different in New York as he saw the different patterns of interest among consumers. He mentioned the variety is much broader in the US and he has a lot to learn. As a graduate in economics, business and management, he sure has a deep understanding of business and start-up culture. When asked, would he rather prefer taking business loans or using personal funds when setting up a business? He had a quick response. Check out the full video to know more in detail.
Angela– On episode 11, we welcome Labinot Krasniqi, also known as Labi. How are you?
Labinot– I’m good, thank you.
Angela– Good! So Labi has been in the hospitality business for the past 17 years, since 2003. He has 5 pasty shops and 2 cafes, and they are in the prime locations of Kosovo. They’re not only visited by locals but also by tourists from all over the world. He’s constantly sourcing the best talent from all over Europe and renovating the locations with the most beautiful design aesthetics. He’s currently living in New York, part-time, where he is exploring new ideas and networking. So what intrigued you to go into the hospitality business? How did it all start?
Labinot– Well, Angela. My dad was in the same business, and since I was a kid I used to go to his restaurants and stay there and help him out.
Angela– So, he was in the restaurant business?
Labinot– Yes, he was in the 90’s. So, I think it started from there.
Angela– Right, so you got inspired?
Labinot– Yeah, I did.
Angela– What has been the most challenging and the most pleasant aspect of the business?
Labinot– Well, the most challenging aspect is staying on top of the business, keeping the good reputation of the business.
Angela– And how do you do that?
Labinot– By working the day to day basis, getting involved in pretty much everything, and customer service. The pleasant part is when you get good feedback from people who enjoy the food.
Angela– I saw your Yelp reviews are great! They’re all positive!
Labinot– Yes, the reviews are all very important to us.
Angela– The restaurant aesthetics are just so beautiful. They each have their own kind of persona, so to say. Do you have your own interior designer or do you play a role in designing them?
Labinot– Well, we do have a designer from the beginning. We worked with these nice ladies, as you can tell from the videos. But yeah, I do like to get involved in the designing process, so I can put my own vision into the design.
Angela– You have many business partners, how many business partners do you have at the moment?
Labinot– We have 3 all together.
Angela– Is that challenging?
Labinot– It is, and then it’s not. Each of us has our own things to do. My role is on the creative side, the production, the creative aspect of the business.
Angela– So you’ve also worked here in New York City, but how different is the European market to the Western market?
Labinot– Here in the states, I had a great experience in chocolate. We worked with chocolate with different companies, I wanted to learn more about chocolate. The difference between here and the European market is that here (in the U.S.), the margin of the profit is much higher. I suppose it’s because they eat more sugar here. In Europe, the portion is smaller and they eat less sugar. I think that’s the main difference between the U.S. and the European chocolate market. In Europe, they like to eat more dark chocolate too. W
Angela– Okay, so are there also any economical challenges having a restaurant in Kosovo, it’s a small country, so do you think there are some challenges there? In regards to the profit margins?
Labinot– Yeah, it’s a lot different from here. A lot of our coffees are an Italian brand, and we have to sell it for a low price. You can get a really good coffee for 1 Euro in Kosovo, versus a coffee from New York City that costs 5 dollars.
Angela– So would you consider opening a space here, maybe a pastry shop or a coffee shop?
Labinot– Yes, I’m looking into it already. It might take a year or a couple of years until I settle everything there, then I’ll be ready to open one here as well.
Angela– So going back to opening your own businesses and relating to opening something here; would you consider taking out a business loan? Or were you always self-funded?
Labinot– Well, to be honest, I wish I could say “business loans”.
Angela– How come?
Labinot– Because it would’ve been easier for me. In the beginning, when I opened my first business, I had to use my own money, I borrowed from my dad and my uncle, to start up the business. But now, I only take out business loans.
Angela– How has that experience been?
Labinot– It’s been good. It’s easier because you get the funds from the loan and that’s essentially it, and with the payment that comes afterward.
Angela– How do people find your pastry shops and restaurants? Are the traffic coming from Yelp or word of mouth?
Labinot– Well, for the locals it’s word of mouth because it is a small country. For tourists or whoever is coming from abroad will usually check online reviews. (Yelp, TripAdvisor, social media platforms, etc.)
Angela– Yeah because I searched “Best Restaurants in Kosovo” and yours popped up. So, I’m sure that’s how it is.
Labinot– Yeah, pretty much. And when they come, they just feel like at home. Yeah, customer service is at the top of the priority list, and we want customers to feel at home. Kosovo is known for hospitality and people, and by the way, we are known for having the best macchiato in the world.
Angela– Wow, that’s a fun fact. So, you are opening your own chocolate line, so can you tell us how that’s going. And do you plan on expanding that business to the United States?
Labinot– Yes, we are creating our own line of chocolate. Here I used to work with one of the best chocolatiers in New York. Last month, I worked with the chef from Ferrer Rocher, and I learned a lot. We’ve even talked about making our type of Nutella, but obviously with our own base chocolate.
Angela– Make sure to send some over.
Labinot– Yes, for sure. We should be ready in a year or two to be able to expand to the United States.
Angela– Okay, and what kind of employees do you hire? Do you usually meet them or is it usually someone else that takes care of it.
Labinot– For that, we usually have an HR team, however for the chocolate-making, I like to be involved with the hiring process because I want someone that can work together and learn from me.
Angela– Do you know most of your employees?
Labinot– Yes most of them I know in the production line. When it comes to the stores I don’t remember everyone but I do know the head managers etc.
Angela– Okay, I’m going to ask you a personal question now but if you were not in the hospitality business, what would you be doing instead?
Labinot– Oh, well I’ve been in this industry for a long time but I would like to be in real estate, flipping houses or something in that category. When we work with interior design, I like to give it my touch in the design. A lot of the furniture is handmade and custom made by the locals. And I play a part in the decision making and the design.
Angela– What is a hobby that you do?
Labinot– My hobby…I’ve ridden motorbikes since I was 10.
Angela– Sounds dangerous.
Labinot– Can be dangerous, but I’ve been riding it for a while.
Angela– In Europe, what is your favorite country (place) to visit?
Labinot– I think Amsterdam, it’s a really chill place.
Angela– Well, thank you so much!
Labinot– Thank you!