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Acting Locally - Students craft business plan for Towson restauranter

After a long week of classes, College of Business and Economics student Kevin Tukei likes to reward himself by indulging in an endless buffet of Mediterranean food, including his favorite dish, hummus, at the Cedar Café Shop just down the street from TU’s campus.

During one of his buffet dinners last semester, he struck up a conversation with the café’s owner, Buthaina Mansour. She asked Tukei if he’d seen advertisements on Facebook for the restaurant. When he replied no, her frustration was palpable, he says.

“That’s when the bell rang for me,” Tukei says. “I thought, why not involve her with ENACTUS and do something to help her with her business?”

ENACTUS is a national student organization that stands for “Entrepreneurial Action Us.” Its mission is to promote positive social impact through entrepreneurial activities.

As event coordinator for the Towson ENACTUS chapter, Tukei is always on the lookout for community projects. He pitched the Cedar Café to his fellow members and the group decided to run with it.

“This project is not so much about improving profits as it is about empowering the business owner.”

“Before we went to the owner, we met and decided that the main goal would be enhancing marketing for the café,” says Towson ENACTUS President Sandrine Emambu. “Then we went and spoke to the owner through one-on-one consulting, and we came to realize marketing was the least of her worries.”

New Beginnings

Tucked into the basement of a house at the corner of Burke Avenue and Hillen Road in Towson, Cedar Café had been a neighborhood establishment for years before the original owner decided to sell. A friend of Mansour took her to get falafel there, and something about the tiny restaurant moved her.

“I fell in love with it for some reason,” says Mansour. “I always take chances and I’m not one to sit still. I had always thought about having my own business.”

Pictured, left to right, Redate Haile, Kevin Tukei, Sandrine Emambu, Tanisha Webb, Buthaina Mansour.

So, with no previous experience working in restaurants or owning a business, Mansour purchased the Cedar Café in 2012 as an investment for her family.

“The first three to four months we spent renovating. We didn’t do any advertising. We just focused on keeping our old customers and relying on word of mouth,” Mansour recalls. “I didn’t want to get more customers before I was ready.”

Once the physical space was in top shape, Mansour revamped the menu and commissioned new signage. She decided it was time to reach out to new customers. With more than 20,000 hungry college students less than a mile away, she knew TU was a good place to start. She had been experimenting with Facebook advertising when Tukei and ENACTUS entered the picture. She says the students’ offer to help was unexpected but very welcome.

“In my mind, I had been thinking, ‘How do I get to Towson University?’” she says. “When I learned they weren’t just going to put in a good word for me at TU, but actually come in and use their own time to help … I never expected that.”

Down to Work

When the students first sat down with Mansour they realized that, while she had a great menu and a passion for her business, there were areas that needed improvement.

Mansour’s lack of a written customer service policy led to inconsistent experiences for customers. The café also lacked an organized inventory management system. In light of these facts, the students stepped up to the plate for the bigger challenges.

“We decided to focus on four areas—inventory, customer service, financial reporting and marketing,” says Emambu.

The students started with customer service. Working with a specialist, the students helped Mansour come up with a customer service manual. Then the students advised Mansour, who in turn trained her own employees on the new policies.


Business Administration, Project Management
and Business Analysis (Honors College)

Business Administration

Business Administration, Project Management
and Business Analysis

Business Administration, International Business

Business Administration, Human
Resource Management

Business Administration, Project Management
and Business Analysis

An online survey was conducted to gather data on how to better reach TU students through marketing. Armed with the results, the ENACTUS students created a Facebook page and email marketing campaign for the café. They even passed out free food samples and café menus in the University Union.

The grant money was used to renovate part of the restaurant’s interior and purchase a laptop computer which the students used to organize Mansour’s financial and operational documents for the restaurant.

Lasting Investment

Mansour, a nurse by profession and the mother of three sons between the ages of 12 and 16, says she bought the café to pay for their college educations.

“When I first brought them here to see the café they said ‘Mom, we believe in you,’” she says. “That gave me a lot of encouragement.”

Mansour says the encouragement and compassion from the ENACTUS students has been inspiring.

“They are a gift from God,” says Mansour. “They are so smart and so passionate but not authoritative. I am proud of them and so happy to be working with them.”

As far as the Towson University students are concerned, seeing Mansour excel as a business owner with the skills and confidence to succeed means their project is already a success.

“I’m not guaranteeing her a 100 percent increase in revenue, but I can guarantee that even though we’re students and we’re not professionals and we don’t know what we’re doing all the time, we’ve seen a change in the kind of owner that she is,” says Emambu. “Seeing her empowered to change her business practices and think differently is very rewarding.”

JOIN ENACTUS - For more information about the ENACTUS
group at Towson, email or message the group
on Facebook.

By Laura Braddick. Photos by Kanji Takeno.

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