• Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020
  • Last Update : 05:22 am

For Saudis, burger-flipping is no longer anything to sneer at

  • Published at 01:55 pm August 1st, 2018
One Way Burger
Bader al-Ajmi, owner of "One Way Burger"cooking food at his truck at Riyadh | AFP

"Many people were against the food truck. Now they say: 'If you have a job, let me know,'" said Ajmi, owner of One Way Burger

One Way Burger is not like any other food truck in Riyadh. However to people’s surprise, behind the grill is a 38-year-old Saudi.

Since Ajmi started his business, dipping into his personal savings, owning a food truck has become the trend du jour and attained a level of respectability. Working inside as a cook apparently still has not.

"When I started this food truck two years ago many people said: 'What? You will sell burgers and sandwiches in the street? You come from a big family and big tribe'," said Bader al-Ajmi, owner of One Way Burger.

"People were surprised," he added, as a Porsche pulled up at the side of his truck to place an order.

Additionally, aristocratic Lexus-owners work as Uber drivers for spare cash.

"Will Saudis ever work as street cleaners?" columnist Abdulhadi al-Saadi recently asked in the daily Saudi Gazette.

"Some people will look down at this proposal. They should know that nations only rise on the shoulders of their own people," he wrote.

Last December, residents of eastern Al-Ahsa region feted a handful of young Saudis who swallowed their pride to do another job long deemed dishonourable - working at a gas station.

"There is no shame in this work," a gas station customer said in a Snapchat video.

"Prophet Mohammed used to work as a shepherd," he added. 

"Saudis are moving into jobs historically dominated by expatriate workers," said Graham Griffiths, senior analyst at the consultancy Control Risks.

Nearly two-thirds of all Saudis are employed by the government, and the public sector wage bill and allowances account for roughly half of all government expenditure.

Meanwhile, the government's push to replace foreigners with Saudi workers, a policy known as "Saudization" as well as a backbreaking expat levy are driving a huge exodus of expats, who hold 70 percent of all jobs.

Official statistics show nearly 800,000 foreign workers have left the kingdom since the beginning of 2017, creating what business owners call a "hiring crisis".

Many companies are reported to be circumventing the policy by paying Saudi workers small salaries to sit at home; effectively creating bogus jobs in a malpractice termed "Fake Saudization".

Flipping sizzling slabs of meat inside his food truck, Ajmi said in the early days he did everything from dicing vegetables to handling the countertop deep fryer.

He has since hired two more Saudis and two Indian workers, but recruiting Saudis still remains a challenge.