Living the American Dream

When serial entrepreneur Emad Barsoum initially approached his local bank for funding to get his original restaurant concept—Las Maria’s Mexican Grill—off the ground, the bank turned him down for a loan, but instead gave Barsoum the number for Community Ventures. Seeing the promise in the person, CV took him on as a client, providing the necessary capital for Barsoum to open his first Lexington eatery. Thanks to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) microloan program, Community Ventures helped Barsoum with a $50,000 microloan to open the self-created concept.

Upon securing a loan to open the first restaurant location, Barsoum would see rapid growth in his business, which would allow him to open a second location in Louisville, and now a third location in Lexington. “When he first came to us, I saw a smart man who clearly understood cash flow. More importantly, he was a decent man who would treat his customers and employees fairly,” shares Alane Goldstein, the Community Ventures Business Development Specialist who first worked with Barsoum years ago. “He had the determination to work as hard as it took to be successful.”

“I feel a big weight on my shoulders every day,” Barsoum said. “People are trusting me with their money. I do not want to disappoint. I want them to know they didn’t make a mistake with their money. And I want to be successful.”

But his inspirational story of success actually started years ago in his home country of Egypt…

In 2006 at 41 years old, Barsoum—trained in accounting but serving as a tour guide in Cairo—had a chance encounter with Stephen Fernands, an American businessman on a mission trip in Egypt. Though their conversation was short and not too in-depth, Fernands handed Barsoum a business card just in case the Egyptian ever found himself in the US. Shortly thereafter, Barsoum’s number came up in the green-card lottery, so he packed up his wife, two children and his mother and came to America.

His first job at Dunkin Donuts brought in just $300 a week. Barsoum took on a second job at Charley’s Philly Steaks, where he quickly moved up to district manager working 16-18 hours a day. The drive to achieve the American dream was a strong one and remembering the business card he had brought all the way from Egypt Barsoum made a call, hoping the man on the other end would remember him.

Fernands greeted Barsoum warmly and invited him to lunch. At the end of the meal, after asking a myriad of questions, Fernands asked Barsoum for his full name and social security number, directing him to an office in Columbus, OH the very next day. When Barsoum arrived, he found both franchise and partnership agreements for a Charley’s Philly Steak franchise awaiting his signature.

“I was crying! How does someone trust someone they only met one time with $150,000?” Barsoum asked in wonder, still emotional years later.

But Fernands did (trust, that is) and Barsoum did not disappoint. With ownership interest now in his own restaurant, another location would quickly follow. Working from open to close every single day—at one point on Christmas Eve with two broken toes—Barsoum revamped the menu and upped profits by 75%. The initial success story repeated as Barsoum added Red Brick Pizza and Cinnabon to his holdings.

His latest endeavor, Las Maria’s Mexican Grill, was conceived and developed from scratch by Barsoum. With two mall locations successfully operating in Louisville, Barsoum sought the help of Community Ventures to open a third location in Lexington.

For more information about securing an SBA Loan through Community Ventures for your new or existing business, contact Lew Whalen at or call us at (859) 231-0054.

Photo Title