Lebanon’s favorite food blogger Anthony Rahayel – aka “No Garlic No Onions” – recently launched a new unique initiative he is calling “The Box.” Building on his blog’s extraordinary success, which has placed him not only in the Lebanese but also the international spotlight, Rahayel decided that he wanted to find a concrete way to share his favorite flavors of Lebanon with his readers while also promoting the finest artisan products from every corner of his country.
We caught-up with Rahayel at his stand during Lebanon’s Horeca Show last week, where he was promoting both his blog and “The Box.” He explained to us a little bit more about his experience with food blogging and the latest expansion of his NGNO brand.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog?
It’s a blog I started in March of 2012. The idea was to have for the first time in Lebanon an honest review and opinion about restaurants. This is how it started. And then it moved or transformed to [become] a food blog, and then it transformed into a medium that discovers the best hidden gems and best food around Lebanon and the world, because I travel a lot. So in Lebanon, instead of talking only about restaurants, I decided to move on to a new approach to things, finding the best mankoushe, the best knefeh, finding the best hidden things that you wouldn’t even imagine finding. And then it moved and developed even more to a TV show on national television every Sunday, which rediscovers the villages of Lebanon from a touristic point of view. The project developed even more and then “The Box.”
How did you develop the concept of “The Box”?
What is “The Box”? The world has moved from print to digital. We have taken that further and we’ve moved 10 years ahead to taste. So we want you to read, for your mouth to water and [then] we are giving you the possibility to taste. So we are going to send you the box, a special surprise box distributed to everyone who subscribes for it at the same time on the same day. And that way everybody will discover it together. Inside are 12 to 15 items, a selection of items I will be discovering in my tours around Lebanon. It’s a way of making you travel with me while staying at home. And this is the box. And the box is a simple and clear way of promoting local artisans from the four corners of Lebanon and homemade food from people who work very hard and don’t have the possibility of taking it down to Beirut. We’re doing it, promoting them, and making you happy.
You just recently launched the idea on your site, have you been getting a lot of interest so far?
We are distributing the second one on the 6th of May. And you can’t imagine, people are just loving it, people are so excited. In the first month we distributed 100 boxes. And thankfully, thanks God, we didn’t have one single mistake and we’re hoping to continue for the months to come.
When you started your blog a few years back, did you anticipate it expanding into a business venture like this one?
I started photography at the age of 18 and my only concern was always how to archive everything and keep track of whatever I’m doing, restaurants I’m visiting. And the idea of the blog was not even a blog. This platform of “No Garlic No Onions” was somewhere that I could write my own reviews and keep a souvenir of restaurants and hotels I visited. And then it boomed. It boomed; I don’t know why, maybe because its honest, maybe because its transparent and maybe its close to the people. And my main concern always was talking the people’s language. What do people want? I’m going to go down to them and not [expect them to come up to a higher level]. And this is something few [food writers] do.
On your post about The Box, you point out that subscribers will receive a lot more value than the $75 they are paying. Can you expound on your business model? How are you making that work financially?
It’s not even a business model. It’s as I said, something to promote artisans and promote Lebanese goods. We’re trying to get amazing special discounts from all the people included in this box because they believe we are promoting them. And we are giving you as a consumer the possibility to receive those goods at very affordable prices. I won’t call that a business model. We don’t even sell those products on the website. Inside every box is an A4 paper with the names of the suppliers and their phone numbers if you want personally to contact them and buy more. So it’s a promotional way, lets say a promotion of Lebanon and our way to say that we love our country. Part of this NGNO huge [brand] we created.
You’ve said before that part of the purpose of your blog is to reach a mass audience, not an elite one, do you see The Box as a targeted to the average Lebanese as well?
The Box is targeting an audience that has $75 to spare. It is targeting a certain category who wants to eat clean, neat and tasty but doesn’t have the possibility to. It’s also targeting families, because inside the box you are going to find things targeting you, your wife and your kids. And it’s a way of giving the chance for those artisans who don’t have much money, to make them get to be known by the others.
You’re still working as a dentist. How do you balance your time between your blog, your clinic and now The Box? Do you think you’ll ever transition fully to just NGNO?
It won’t become my only thing. I love what I do. I have four specialties. I studied 9 years to get that. But I also love the passion inside NGNO. All I do is passion. All I do is positivity. I’m a super positive person. Ninety-nine percent of my time is based on positivity and this is how I manage to do my time, I wake up very early. Six a.m. I’m up. Midnight I’m sleeping and I don’t know, I just manage to make it happen and enjoy living those 80 years that God has given us. We are given a gift that is maybe 80 years of living and you choose to live them positively, negatively, nagging, fully loaded or just live to eat and sleep. And I think I chose to live them fully.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
The online presence, the TV show, and now The Box is all about life, passion, love and enjoying the country we are living in. And we personally don’t know how important it is. I hope and wish to be able to to stay up to the expectations of people, always looking forward to many more projects to come.
If you are interested in subscribing to The Box, click here.