Entrepreneur of the Month
by Heidi Grieser
According to the SBA, small businesses account for half of all the jobs in the United States and have generated 75% of all the new jobs in the past decade. The way that main stream media outlets remain fixated on Wall Street and huge American corporations, the economic significance of small businesses might never be assumed. It’s the small businesses that are the innovators of products, services and culture. Utah Stories will be offering a new section “Entrepreneur of the Month” which will profile one of Utah’s small businesses owners who offers a truly unique product, service and story.
Samer Besseiso has always been a whiz kid and aspiring business man. At twenty he finished a managerial accounting degree from the New York Institute of Technology and had a promising job for Ernest and Young… aside from being stationed in the middle of a war zone.
For two and a half years Sam worked and lived in the Gaza Strip for Ernest and Young. He says, “they wouldn’t transfer me to any other office. You’d see Apache’s and F-16, and not just see them, but see them in action, bombing the building next to you. They [Israel] bombed beaches so you couldn’t go to the beach, and the borders so you couldn’t leave, the presidential house, the police, and I’d have to go to the Ministry of Finance and then have to leave because of bomb threats.”
Sam prefers Salt Lake City to Israel for one simple reason- “there’s no war.” Sam’s family is Palestinian, but have been settled in Salt Lake City for at least four generations. Sam was born in Salt Lake City and graduated high school here, but modeled his coffee-house after the old European style places he grew to love through his many international travels as a child and in college.
After quitting Ernest and Young and returning from Gaza with his wife Israa, Sam used his savings and planned Whisper’s Cafe for about a year before opening. Sam’s past is reflected in Whisper’s atmosphere purposefully, “I wanted couches and large tables, and we have 27 kinds of tea, plus five flowering teas, and hookahs in the evening. Everything is European style except we don’t have the alcohol.”
All new ventures have problems, and Sam tells me his was no exception. “The first three years are hard,” he says, “You have to manage to keep getting better, and have people tell you, ‘you’re getting better’. In the beginning it was like going up a stairway, and now it’s an escalator.” His gauge for success is to, “have people think of your business as always good. They are connected and love and respect you. Also, a big part of success is contributing to your community and society.”
Opening a coffee shop like Whisper’s is a unique challenge, because it’s a mix between a home and a social space, for employees and customers alike. Sam is attune to this special coffee-house precept and strives to encourage a friendly environment. His advice, “don’t be a boss–be a coworker. Do the same job as your employees, but do it better, so they see what they are supposed to do.”
Sam says his focus at Whisper’s is to provide a place where people of all types and ages will feel comfortable. “I’m trying to do something different than Starbucks. Their coffee is always burnt but people go there anyway because it’s Starbucks: it’s a high end place. Well I’ve got a high-end place that’s comfy. You don’t have to feel rushed,” says Sam.
Whisper’s has based their menu on the advice and suggestions of their regular customers to much success. They make panini sandwiches on fresh foccacia bread, and host a vegan brunch on Sundays, in addition to the normal coffee shop indulgences. They also offer hookah’s in the evening, an open poetry group on Friday nights, and host charity events. Stop in sometime and see what Sam has created, and let him know what you think.
Sam advises to use the alley to access Whisper’s from the back or approach the front driveway sideways so you don’t bottom out your car. §
Whisper’s Cafe is open 6am to 11pm weekdays, and open until 1am on Friday and Saturday, and 8pm on Sunday.
1429 South 1100 East