The kitsch, cool and quirky Wel3a has become THE place to go for smooth shisha in the city. Owner Amro Elfiky lets us in on the smokey secret behind its success...
This week we catch up with Amro Elfiky – the man with a million business ideas a minute – who spent a lifetime discussing, detailing, pitching and preening those ideas over a shisha. So, it’s ironic that his best and biggest idea to date has been, well, shisha. Not the invention of (clearly, because shisha was invented by Chuck Norris) but rather the selling of – in a whole new way. He is, of course, the endlessly engaging Egyptian entrepreneur behind Wel3a, the upmarket, funky and phenomenally popular gourmet shisha cafe in Zamalek. The self-professed shisha-conissuer is also one of MO4′s favourites, because he’s good people, and these days, that’s hard to come by. We invited him into the CairoScene offices to discuss rapping, turf wars and putting local policemen on Wel3a’s payroll….
We understand you’re here to promote your new album The Sounds ofWel3a…
Yeah I’m excited about the album especially the first single I Like to Smoke My Pipe which will be followed by another track called Suck and Blow. It’s kind of RnB, blues with 70’s guitar riffs…
No, but guess what? I actually featured on a track for Ramy Sabry. He used to come to Wel3a and someone introduced me to him because he knew I used to write lyrics for fun. Ramy asked me to write something for him and I did it on the spot. We played around and I ended up rapping on his track!
Do a lot of famous people come to Wel3a?
We have some interesting people showing up… Mais Hamdan, Ahmed El Esseily, Sandmonkey. We actually have some seriously interesting debates going on at Wel3a.
Do you ever have any mythical creatures come?
One time I thought we did, but I was just really fucked up.
Do you ever get bored at Wel3a and put hash in the shisha?
Not on purpose. You can imagine that, because we’re open 24 hours, it gets to about 5am and there’s a few drunks hanging around and we’ve had some requests for hash! It’s not on our menu though.
Tell us more fun late night stories from Wel3a…
Well, this one is not that fun but interesting: Wel3a is across the street from Fayza Aboul Naga’s house (Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister). Naturally, she had a problem with us being open all night long and taking up her precious Zamalek sidewalk and would send her goons to mess with us. Luckily, they’d always come along early in the morning when Wel3a is quiet and there aren’t even any chairs and tables out. Eventually, we heard from a local police officer, who is unofficially on our payroll, that the complaints she filed said that our customers are drunk and smoking drugs! That’s when we started our #FuckFayza Twitter campaign.
What do you mean “unofficially on our payroll”?
Part of owning a business in Egypt unfortunately means bribing a whole host of people. It’s not their fault, it’s not our fault – it’s the way the city council system is set up. It’s really the only way police officers and government inspectors and so on can make a decent living. That’s not to say we’re doing anything wrong and we’re buying immunity! We’ve got all our paperwork and licenses in order, but they can really mess things up for us if we don’t give them their monthly 50LE. We actually got taken to court once because an inspector didn’t receive the money he expected, the day he expected it. When I got to the hearing and showed them all the legal stuff, the court was shocked because they’d never had someone in who wasn’t doing something wrong, one way or another!
Does Wel3a serve the best shisha in Egypt?
In the world?
The guy at Goal doesn’t agree.
Well, what can I do? The difference between Wel3a and these other places is that we’re not your average café. Shisha is top priority for us and that makes sure it’s perfect every time. We’re serious about smoking – I’m even going to a tobacco convention next week in Germany! That’s what really makes a difference to your business as an entrepreneur. I have three rules for anyone thinking about starting a business – you have to love what you do, be the best at it and take the right opportunities.
There’s still a lot of competition in Zamalek in terms of cafés that serve shisha. Do you have turf wars?
Not exactly turf wars. It’s like…what’s it called when two Japanese businesses fight?
No. Forget that. I mean we have competition but we really focus on the shisha, unlike other places where the tobacco menu is an afterthought. We don’t even have a kitchen or a food menu. Instead, we focus on high quality tobacco, experienced staff and new innovations. We’re the sole importer of Star Buzz which includes the popular Blue Mist flavour, for example. We’ve had a few issues with our café neighbours, but customers always come back to Wel3a when they realise that no other shisha compares.
You’re right next door to MB3, the underwear shop. Have you thought about collaborating with them?
We thought about it, but they don’t sell Cottonil which is my favourite.
What’s next for Wel3a?
We’re very close to expanding and I’ve been looking in Maadi, Heliopolis and Sheikh Zayed for locations. I’ve also begun looking into to franchising out of Egypt in Amman and Dubai.
What’s next for Amro ElFiky?
I’ve got a huge food and beverage project in the pipeline but I’m keeping it under wraps! I’m a partner in another company that brings vending machines into Egypt. The company is called AYRO, which means ‘his penis’ in Lebanese but it’s actually a combination of mine and my partners’ names.
Do you have any advice for people who want to quit smoking?
Smoke shisha – Star Buzz and Emirati Tobacco are both tar free!