Our New Business, Old Ideas series focuses our lens on newly established and highly creative businesses selling products and services as old as time, some even thought to have become obsolete. Yet with very inventive and innovative approaches, these businesses have found success and flourished.
An appreciation of flowers as a crucial aspect of our daily lives runs in Mohamed Elbassioni’s blood. He comes from a family line of flower aficionados and has lived in the Netherlands for almost a decade, studying agriculture engineering before working in the country’s famed flower trading sector.
The Dutch are globally renowned for taking their flowers seriously; they boast the world’s largest flower markets, and flowers are a part of everyday life. Far from considering flowers frivolous, the Netherlands’ conventional hold on the industry stems from cultural values that place an emphasis on florist artisanship, where no dinner table is complete without a bouquet.
But Elbassioni’s understanding of floristry is not solely a result of his time spent working in the heart of the world’s flower trade. In 1948, just as Egypt was at the cusp of modern statehood, Elbassioni’s grandfather and uncle started May Flowers, an iconic flower shop in the upscale Zamalek neighbourhood. Elbassioni describes himself as a third-generation flower man and a second-generation flower grower; his father is a regional pioneer in indoor flowers and cut flower production, and the family owns and operates a flower farm in Giza’s Al Mansouria, just outside of the Cairo city centre.
“My father was the first [in Egypt] to grow indoor plants and cut flowers at a large scale, and even helped Egypt become an exporter in the field. He’s also introduced several products to the market, by buying young plants from Holland and multiplying these young plants through greenhouses,” the younger ElBassioni explains. Although Egypt isn’t a key player in the global, cut-throat flower trade, the most populous Arab country exports lilies, carnations, gerberas, and green bouquet fillers. The country’s year-round sunshine, flower growing tradition and proximity to Europe make it a promising, albeit less prominent, ornamental plant hub.
Amidst this ecosystem, centring on a product of beauty, wonder and ascetically expressing love and romance, Elbassioni took on his family legacy and crafted a contemporary purpose: making flowers a bigger part of people’s day-to-day lives in Egypt. He pursues this goal he deems a “calling” despite local challenges, such as inflated flower prices or Egypt’s slow climb to meeting its global flower market potential.
“In Europe, flowers are such a big part of people’s everyday lives. People buy their bouquets from the supermarket, or from the farmers’ market on the weekends, but here this was never the case. Flowers are just one of the things the wedding planner charges you for on this big wedding invoice. So, it was never really marketed for what it is,” Elbassioni explains of his driving mission. His partners are his sister, master florist Nada, and his brother-in-law Sherif Hamdy; together the trio birthed Blooms and Beans, a café with beautifully pleasing plants at every corner, redefining flower culture beyond the exclusive halls of mega weddings.
Situated just outside of Cairo in the Sheikh Zayed suburb’s open-air mall Arkan, the venue has been open for just under two years and is described on its Instagram page as a space conceptualized by flower growers who combined “their passion for flowers, coffee, and food under one roof.” The space delivers on its promise and more; with a delicious menu and a vibrant space, it’s an ideal spot for brunching with friends, working remotely from an awe-inspiring, clean-aired setting standing starkly against Cairo’s chaos, or simply sipping a routine cup of coffee in a rejuvenating, bright space that will immediately kick up your mood.
“As a third-generation flower person, together with my sister, I feel it’s [our] duty to introduce flowers into peoples’ day-to-day lives. We truly believe that surrounding yourself with flowers and plants adds to your space and has plenty of psychological benefits, connecting you with nature. I don’t think we were ever meant to be in enclosed spaces surrounded by concrete,” Elbassioni adds. His sister, Nada, he explains came with the idea for Blooms and Beans since she felt the pull to open a flower café people could visit on a regular basis, after years spent honing her floristry craft through commissions for weddings and other events.
But their ambition doesn’t stop there. The flower-loving siblings, along with serial enterpreneur Ahmed Habib, are also starting an ambitious business, Daily Bloom, aiming to boost flower culture in Egypt by delivering regular bouquets on a subscription basis, raising awareness about in season blooms through an affordable service that takes away the time spent visiting a florist. Subscribers would select a bouquet once, choose a convenient size, and from then will receive a regular bouquet of in season flowers every week, 15 days or month based on their preference.
Daily Bloom’s website also boasts a brilliant selection of pre-selected one-time bouquets, although the subscription-based orders seem to be the brand’s far more unique and purposeful offering. It’s the Cairo-appropriate equivalent of buying flowers from the supermarket or a local florist as one would in Europe. In a bustling city and diminishing access to florists under the ongoing urban sprawl, Daily Bloom’s subscription service brightens up people’s homes, encourages flower-purchasing beyond the commercial slant of Valentine’s or Mother’s Day, and boosts education about flower production and the fresh product’s health benefits.
“We want people to understand seasonality; So, let’s say in the summer, people would look forward to receiving sunflowers, and then close to the winter, they would get excited about lilies or perhaps tulips. And maybe you’d think, I didn’t realize it was tulip season, I didn’t know Egypt grew tulips. We aim to raise awareness and knowledge [about the flower industry]…I think that this the biggest challenge for us; educating people about the benefits of flowers and having flowers, and the means to be surrounded by flowers,” Elbassioni elucidates.
Another challenge Elbassioni describes is the decreasing number of agribusinesses shaping the country’s flower sector. “When there are more people involved in the business, it’s always a good thing because they collectively travelled and represented Egypt in exhibitions [up until 20 years ago], but for now we feel we’re kind of on an island on our own, and obviously it’s a very labour-intensive operation and the product is so [time-]sensitive, so maintaining that product with heating in the winter and cooling in the summer—the bills just keep piling up,” he explains.
Daily Bloom is slated to launch later this fall at a date that is yet to be announced, although their website is fully operational and available for placing orders. The team, as the ones who are also behind Blooms and Beans, plan to expand and open other flower cafés across the city.