La Dolce Vita Restaurant
Shadi lived in Europe for over a decade. But when she decided to open her restaurant, she knew she had to return home to northern Iraq. “ISIS destroyed Kurdistan’s economy and increased the unemployment rate. That gave me the incentive to go back and to challenge myself, as a woman, to establish a business even though I am surrounded by men.”
Shadi is Shabak, one of the minority groups persecuted by ISIS when the group seized control of northern Iraq in 2014. After ISIS was expelled from the country in 2017, she returned to the city of Erbil to establish La Dolce Vita. Located in the city’s affluent business district, the restaurant serves high-end traditional Arabic and Kurdish food as well as western dishes. Three years later, Shadi remains the only female business owner among the 20 restaurants in the area. “I am proud to compete [with them] and to serve fine traditional Iraqi cuisine,” she says.
But when COVID-19 took hold in Iraq, Shadi faced her biggest business challenge yet. Lockdown measures imposed in Erbil in mid-March 2020 forced La Dolce Vita to close and like other bars and restaurants in the city, it could not fully reopen until September. This was a devasting blow to the business, which was left with no revenue for six months. Shadi struggled to cover costs like rent, electricity, and salaries. She was forced to retrench five employees and to cut the salaries of her remaining staff, which includes displaced Syrian nationals, by 50%.
The business was given a lifeline when it received financing through NII’s COVID-19 SME Support Programme. This loan allowed La Dolce Vita to cover salaries, rent and the cost of sales to reopen. “I received this loan at a very critical stage because most likely, I would have had to close my business. This loan brought back my business to life,” Shadi says.
The restaurant can now continue to employ 11 people, including 5 women. Kale, is a young single mother supporting her two children, aged two and four. She has been working at La Dolce Vita since 2017. “I feel fortunate to have kept my job during this pandemic when so many people have lost theirs. I hope to continue working so I can support my family and send my kids to school.”