Meet the Members: Shaker, an Academic-Turned-Entrepreneur Rebuilding his Syrian Business in Turkey

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Name: Shaker Moutraji
Business: Cheese Mamul production business
LIFE Cohort: 1st Cohort, Mersin
Home Country: Syria


Shaker always likes to introduce himself by highlighting his impressive academic background, as he holds a PhD in Sharia Law and a Master’s degree in Child’s Rights. Shaker has travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, worked in universities, and managed schools. “At one point, I realized that I couldn’t make a living with my academic job, so we opened a sweet shop in Syria.” The business focused on mamul, a traditional Middle Eastern pastry filled with a variety of stuffings. Shaker’s mamul had a unique twist - instead of the traditional nuts and dates, his pastries were filled with cheese. “We first opened a warehouse in a popular place specializing in cheese Mamul, which was introduced to the market by my late father. We were three partners: a chef, a manager, and a financing partner and we worked for three months in this warehouse. Then came an offer by an investor for expansion.”

Shaker then started producing all kinds of Eastern and Western sweets. His business grew to include six shops around Latakia, three of which were in malls, and another shop in Safita, Tartous governorate. His cheese mamul business later expanded to Aleppo’s two main malls, the Newtown and Carrefour.

“On the 21st of March 2011, the conflict started in Syria. On the 25th of March, I closed all seven shops,” Shaker recalls. “In the sweets industry, the capital is in the products themselves. In one month, we had lost all our capital inside the shops and all the products went to waste. Then we started working from within our factory and distributed to selling points in Syria as wholesale to places conflict had not reached. This lasted until 2013, I then had to leave with my entire family because of the unbearable war conditions.”

“When I first came to Mersin I was able to find employment with my diplomas. I was a teacher and a manager of a language school. I stayed five years in Mersin managing Syrian schools, and then, I realized that my situation will not be financially sustainable unless I had my own business. I went back to Mamul: I started again with 0 capital, I borrowed 600 TRY, I bought a used fridge for 300 TRY and the dough ingredients in addition to two kilos of cheese.”

At first, one of Shaker’s biggest challenges was the lack of customers. After receiving positive feedback from friends and social media, Shaker started working on cheese Mamul again with different selling points, much like the way he used to operate in Syria.

Shaker heard about the LIFE Project through his daughter. At first, “my daughter forced me to come,” Shaker recalls. He then learned about the international recognition of the LIFE Project certificate and his motivations increased session after session: “I was very happy with the atmosphere and that everyone there wanted to help.” As a winner of the first business pitch competition in Mersin, Shaker plans to register his business. “Mamul will continue,” Shaker says. Although potential investors have approached him, Shaker wants to carry on with his project on his own. “I want to expand and export to Germany and the Netherlands.”

Follow Shaker on Instagram @peynirli_maamul