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Jules Croubalian-Leuba, finding his way thanks to his family heritage

Ten years after his arrival in Montreal, Jules Croubalian-Leuba, a Swiss-Canadian with Egyptian and Armenian roots, has made his family heritage a driving force for accomplishment. He is now the head of a thriving hibiscus juice company, which respects the Cairo tradition.

Jules Croubalian-Leuba, founder of Zamalek. © Léopold Picot / RFI

By: Léopold Picot Follow

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From our correspondent in Canada,

It is in a huge industrial building north of Montreal, filled with offices of companies that are launching, that Jules Croubalian-Leuba gave appointment. The elevator door creaks open: Zamalek, his company, has office 407 at the end of the hallway. Inside, kitchen kits and crates full of cans. Sitting in front of a fan, his curly-haired head bent over his computer, Jules Croubalian-Leuba, 31, straightens up and beckons at us.

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Here, we experiment with recipes and store a few boxes of juice ", explains the thirty-year-old, before inviting us to sit in a big sofa, a can of hibiscus juice in hand. Rather reserved at the beginning of the interview, Jules ends up following anecdotes about his family with passion: at home, his heritage has durably influenced his career, until he creates Zamalek.

A legacy of migration

Jules' great-grandfather was an Armenian who worked in Egypt. When the genocide began, he returned to Armenia to save his wife and children; He will only return with his children. His grandfather was raised in Cairo, where he learned finance. Jules lost his paternal grandfather when he was only six years old, but he admires him very much. "My grandfather lived in Cairo. He then climbed the financial ladder in Montreal, and was able to move to Switzerland with my grandmother, of Swiss German origin, years later. He showed tremendous resilience to overcome obstacles," says the entrepreneur, his steely eyes shining with admiration.

Inevitably, this family history, between four countries, pushes Jules, raised in Geneva, to want to know more. "Since I had a Canadian passport, when I came of age, I went to Montreal. I wasn't bad at school, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I wanted to fend for myself," he says. Arriving in Montreal in 2013, the young man has worked in service and cooking for years, until today.

Quickly, he missed the flavors of his childhood. "I couldn't find any hibiscus juice like the one my mother made for me: she had learned her recipe on her way to Cairo to visit my paternal grandfather. Other juices, from Mexico or West Africa, are much sweeter," he notes. Jules decides to make his own juice, respecting the Egyptian recipe, for his personal pleasure.

Music and Business

The influence of his family, which is beginning to be felt, will only increase. His father, a musician from a rather wealthy family, and his mother, daughter of puciers and involved in the Geneva cultural world, met at a concert. The former loves vinyl. Jules inherited his passion, mixing and collecting records. While going to a Montreal record store in 2016, he sympathized with the manager, who offered him vinyl records in exchange for a few pitchers of juice. "A few months later, a restaurant in Montreal called me to ask me to produce hibiscus juice for them," he says, still looking surprised.

At first, his first reaction is to refuse: it's the family recipe, he doesn't necessarily want to make a business out of it. But as the restaurant insists, the idea begins to catch on. "I started, in my kitchen, respecting the sanitary rules that I had learned in catering," says Jules.

He learned on the job how to trade, tried to negotiate with his Egyptian hibiscus suppliers and perfected his recipe. The budding entrepreneur decides to go further. "Finally, in the winter of 2019, I went to Cairo, to try to get hibiscus directly and follow in my grandfather's footsteps." This is how Zamalek was born, named after the neighborhood where his grandfather lived and the best football team in Egypt – according to him – which he developed on his return with two friends, Damarice and Bashar.

Canned flowers

Zamalek now has 250,000 cans per year, exported to several Canadian provinces as far as Calgary, Alberta. "You would have told me that I would end up founding a company, I would not have believed it! But finally, here I am, and I am the first employee of the company, after years working in catering in parallel with its launch, "smiles Jules, hands behind his head.

The recipe remains true to what her mother did to her. Karkadé, also called bissap, or agua de Jamaica, is water, hibiscus, mint and cane sugar. Nothing more. "Unlike distant competitors or not, we only use natural, organic and fair trade products. It's harder, but it's worth it! ", he justifies. Indeed, to taste, the product is light, balanced and very refreshing, without being too sweet. Depending on the vintage, the taste can even vary, says the entrepreneur, a sign that the process is still very artisanal.

In the long run, Jules doesn't know exactly what he'll do. Despite the success, the entrepreneur keeps a cool head. For him, Zamalek can grow further, but it will never become a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi. "We already have a lot of ideas with the rest of the Zamalek trio, more or less close to hibiscus juice," he smiles, his head already turned to other projects.

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