Athar and Atheer Naif are sisters and co-owners of Harvest Bowl, an eatery and market based in Tampa, FL, that combines customizable bowls featuring Middle Eastern flair with a retail section of gourmet goods.
We spoke with the sisters about starting their business right before the pandemic and the challenges they continue to conquer together.
Tell us about your career journey. How did you end up starting and co-owning your eatery and market?
We grew up in family-owned businesses and worked in them as kids. We both attended college (University of Tampa and University of South Florida) and pursued graduate degrees (Athar went to pharmacy school and Atheer earned her MPA degree). After pursuing careers in our respective fields, we naturally gravitated back toward the idea of owning our business. We decided on an eatery because we had some food experience and thought it would be a great opportunity, so we went for it! It took us two years to get permits along with months of planning and prepping. Many times we hesitated and questioned our decision, but we kept pushing through and we are so grateful that we did!
Do you have any advice for women who want to start their own business in the food industry?We understand that women are often still the primary caretakers of their families — we’re both married with kids — so we believe that time management and family support are both key to success. The food business can be difficult and very time-consuming, but we have had amazing support from our spouses, and we make it work.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced as business owners?
We opened in January 2020, months before the pandemic caused everything to shut down. We were so confused and worried just like everyone else. After the restrictions loosened up, we found that staffing was our biggest challenge. We continue to face a staffing shortage which forces us to re-prioritize some aspects of the business to staff the front-of-house ourselves.
What is it like to co-own a business with your sister?
There is a year and a half between us in age, so we have always been super close! It’s great owning a business with your sister, but like all sisters, we do fight; though it works because we have a mutual understanding and respect. It’s always reassuring to know that one of us will cover the other or run the business alone if need be. We love being sister-partners!
What does being a woman and business owner in the food industry mean to you?
Empowerment. It shows that we can do it all and that’s very satisfying. It feels good to provide a service to the community and receive great feedback in return.
There has been conversation recently around the term “badass” and how its connotations suggest that women need to act masculine to succeed. What are your thoughts?
We don’t see the term badass as masculine or negative. We believe “badass” signifies strong work ethic and hustle because that’s what it takes to survive in this industry. Especially for women.
We think women have to work smarter and harder to make it happen because of the work/home balance they still have to provide and being a “badass” is what it takes!
Do you have any other thoughts or advice for female business owners in this industry? Getting overwhelmed in this business is inevitable. We strongly encourage our fellow female entrepreneurs to take a step back when needed. Burnout is real and can damage your ambition toward your business. It’s okay to take a break and focus on yourself. Stepping back will help recharge so you can come back with so much positive energy.