Tulsa native Omar Kasim didn’t have to go very far from home to find a place that would inspire him to become an entrepreneur. Once he landed at the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Kasim knew it was meant to be. His love for Northwest Arkansas grew even more during his time as a student, so much that he chose to stay around and open a business after graduating in 2015. “I just fell in love with the area; I love its emphasis on local business and the outdoor lifestyle,” he says. “It has a big city feel with small town appeal,” he adds.
Kasim had originally planned to attend law school after graduating, but fate had other plans. In 2016, he opened the popular Fayetteville dining spot Con Quesos instead. The concept of the restaurant was actually the topic of his honors thesis for business school, and Kasim decided to pass on law school to bring that project to life, despite having no previous restaurant experience. He says that he was inspired by other successful entrepreneurs who’d come before him, many of whom were immigrants or others who had no formal training or business experience. “It can be done because it has been done. It’s just a matter of how hard you want to work for it,” he says of his motivation to succeed.
Con Quesos is a fast-casual taco restaurant located near the UofA. Kasim says that his goal for the eatery was to incorporate unique flavors like Caribbean, Indian and Mediterranean into tasty tacos. The restaurant is still in operation, though Kasim has split from his financial partner and left the business. However, that bump in the road didn’t deter Kasim from seeking out his next opportunity. “I wasn’t done with entrepreneurship, and I had a lot more steam in the tank,” he says.
The experience of opening and operating Con Quesos taught Kasim several lessons for the future of running a business, but the most significant was related to team culture. He says that the initial focus of the company was on branding and the customer experience. While not a bad thing, it led to a lot of employee turnover because the staff culture had not been a top priority for management. Kasim went on to attend an executive training session at the Culinary Institute of America, where he learned the importance of a healthy team culture in the restaurant business.
After the experience of splitting with his partner in Con Quesos, it would have been easy for Kasim to just leave the restaurant business behind forever. Instead, he talked with many friends and mentors in the local business community, including restaurant operators. Kasim was advised by those seasoned experts that it was a lesson learned, and he should just move on. He uses the analogy of a having a bad hand in a poker game. “You can’t take those emotions into the next hand,” he says of his decision to find a new opportunity. “Just play each hand as you go,” he adds. In his heart, Kasim knew he was still an entrepreneur and that all his business endeavors wouldn’t end the same way.
Fast forward to present time and the opening of Juice Palm in uptown Fayetteville. It is a USDA-certified organic juice bar that serves salads, smoothies, acai bowls and other health-focused items. Kasim says, “I sought to create a concept that was built towards people that wanted to maintain a health-conscious lifestyle but didn’t necessarily know how.” The menu incorporates superfoods into all the dishes but blends them with more familiar foods. “At Juice Palm you can order anything on the menu and be assured that it’s health-driven and it’s flavorful,” he explains.
Kasim settled on this business concept after he visited a friend in New York. While exploring the city, he noticed that juice bars were popular, and he found them interesting. After chatting with a juice bar operator, and trying out the core pressed juice, Kasim realized that he’d gone a whole day without eating a meal and still had a high level of energy. After that trip, he began to notice the growing number of juice bars in other big cities he visited. Kasim saw that food trends were leaning toward natural, organic and more sustainable options. His idea for Juice Palm met all of those ideals. Kasim describes himself as “health conscious” and “always on the go,” so the idea of bringing a quick and healthy food option to Northwest Arkansas was very appealing to him.
The future is very exciting for Kasim and Juice Palm, as he has just signed a lease for a new location in the 8th Street Market in Bentonville. Kasim admits that he was a little hesitant to start working on a second store when still trying to open the first one, but he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “That’s going to be location number two,” he says. “Let’s see where we go from there.”
Kasim says that moving forward on the plans for the new location has forced the need to expedite the learning process to streamline operations at Juice Palm. He realizes that growing can be difficult, especially in a transition to two locations. “If you can make it to that second location and thrive, then the rest is just a matter of finding real estate and good opportunities,” he explains.
Outside of Juice Palm, Kasim stays involved in the community. He enjoys speaking about entrepreneurship and following dreams, often in high school and college classrooms. He is currently helping establish an upper-level class in the Walton College of Business that will introduce students to successful business people in Northwest Arkansas. The goal is to help students make connections and encourage them to stay in Northwest Arkansas to become part of the business community.
Juice Palm is located in uptown Fayetteville, and open every day. To find out more, visit www.juicepalm.com.