Early years — Youssef’s father passed away suddenly before his birth. The family lived at the time in the Ivory Coast, in Africa. His mother, along with him and her two little girls, returned to Lebanon in their grief. She delivered Youssef in Tripoli and later went back to settle her husband’s business affairs abroad. Despite such tragedy, Youssef’s childhood was pleasant. He was surrounded by relatives from both his mother and father’s side, who were all from the same village. Youssef’s paternal grandfather owned a large estate of olive trees in the village. He and his uncle were the sole beneficiaries of the land. This uncle was like a father to him during his childhood. He encouraged Youssef to become involved in the olive business as he saw that his own children were not interested. Youssef studied agronomy in Lebanon for five years, but felt that the program was too theoretical. He decided to travel to Paris to continue his studies. But during a visit to Lebanon during Christmas vacation, Youssef decided to return to Lebanon to devote his life to the family business.
Destiny — The first difficult decision Youssef faced was whether to sell the factory’s antiquated equipment. His main objective was to make extra virgin olive oil according to international standards. He confronted his uncle, arguing that modernizing the family’s traditional oil business in order to advance meant changing and updating the whole system. Reluctantly, his uncle agreed and let Youssef handle the matter.
Youssef studied the raw material, his olive trees. He recognized that they needed attention all year long. In February, for example, there is a lot of humidity; therefore the trees need to be treated for peacock spots. This is done to avoid falling leaves in the future which will inhibit the growth of new branches and fruit. In April and May, the grass around the trees must be cut or ploughed. Traps are put in the trees to attract fruit flies. Harvest comes each year in September and October when the olives turn green. Then the trees have to be treated again for peacock spots, and the cycle continues. Patience and time are the keys to success. Youssef’s work is more than just a commercial venture – he is custodian of a piece of living heritage.
Youssef’s goals and objectives — Youssef’s determination and passion has led him far. “I am learning every day, what I want is very far from where I am.” He would like to become the key contact person for olives in Lebanon. He would like to grow his olive oil brand, Zejd (derived from the ancient Phoenician word for olive oil) and make it available in all countries around the world. He wants to expand.
Zejd, a family business — The mill boasts state-of-the art machinery that can produce olive oil in a matter of minutes. It is quite impressive. The final product is pungent, sharp and full of aroma. Through an inside room connected to the family house, I am introduced to Youssef’s mother. She lives according to the whims of her son’s business and busy lifestyle. She helps him run the family business and feeds their frequent visitors.
A visit to the groves — No words can describe the beauty of that magnificent landscape. It is clear as to why Youssef had chosen this particular path. Strolling through the land, contemplating the trees, as workers pick the olives by hand is a real treat for anyone. The mill is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to ensure top quality olive oil.
“House of Zejd”, the shop in Beirut — After years of contemplating a signature store, the dream finally has become a reality. Named after the Phoenician word for olive oil, House of Zejd is a concept store about “everything olive” – from organic, ecological, extra virgin or infused oils, to tapenades, olive oil soaps, and stuffed or pickled olive varieties. Zejd also offers its clients tasting, olive-inspired tidbits and packaged specialty gift boxes. Tasting events are scheduled regularly for groups for an exploration of olive oil appreciation. Cooking demonstrations and classes are also scheduled with chefs, unveiling secrets of using olive oil in cooking. Thursdays House of Zejd hosts a cocktail with wine and specialty tapas bites to create a communal ambiance, sharing stories and information about food and social chitchat.