Josi Jahic – an immigrant entrepreneur living the American dream

January 06, 2021

Logo of Pitaria

A woman from the Balkans migrates to the US, earns her MBA degree, marries another immigrant, has a beautiful son and lives the American Dream running a successful Mediterranean restaurant with her husband.

This is not a Hollywood movie. This is the incredible story of a Josi Jahic, the co-owner of J’s Pitaria. 

Editing this interview was hands down one of the hardest tasks. Why? Thinking constantly of somun and kajmak, cevapcici, lahmacun and other mouth-watering Balkan food is extremely daunting on a gloomy Monday morning with an empty belly. Moving to St. Louis only to be close to J’s Pitaria suddenly felt like a reasonable idea.

Read Josi’s delicious entrepreneurial story and good luck resisting the temptation, especially if there’s no Mediterranean food near you.

Feeling under-appreciated as an employee, a nonexistent work-life balance, financial struggles, getting out of bad relationships – these are the most common triggers that push women to become entrepreneurs. Tell us about your trigger?

My husband’s dream to open a Mediterranean restaurant, now known as J’s Pitaria, was a significant trigger that pushed me to become an entrepreneur. I have always been the kind of person who has an enterprising attitude and welcomes any challenge. Since he supported me in everything I’ve been able to accomplish so far, it was time for me to help him. I had just earned my Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and gained a lot of knowledge to utilize for running the business side of the restaurant. With his passion for nourishing others through family recipes and my business education, we ran J’s Pitaria from the ground up.

Josi Jahic , Co-Owner of J’s Pitaria

Josi Jahic, Co-Owner of J’s Pitaria

How did you come up with your business idea?

J’s Pitaria was a concept that my husband and I had in the back of our minds for a long time. We’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and experience authentic, healthy Mediterranean dishes throughout our lives. When we landed in St. Louis, however, they were impossible to find. Before opening, it was our mission to perfect the recipes our menu would include, while upholding the tradition surrounding each item.

Have you had support from someone, even if just encouragement? Who was that and how did it help you?

I’ve mentioned him a lot already but my husband, Zamir, is my biggest supporter. If I’m ever feeling down or discouraged, he’s the one who lifts me up. I do the same for him whenever he needs it. We are constantly encouraging each other to keep moving forward and never look back.

Female entrepreneurs are often underestimated and overlooked. Have you ever felt at a disadvantage?

Personally, I’ve never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender. It’s all about having the confidence in yourself to work hard and get where you want to be in life. That’s how I’ve always operated. If I were ever overlooked, you’d better believe that I was pushing myself without even knowing it.

Some say it’s hard work, others say it’s talent and resourcefulness that play a crucial role for success in entrepreneurship? Which traits have been instrumental for your success so far? And why?

I believe hard work plays a crucial role for success in entrepreneurship. You have to be willing to put the hours in and be really creative and strategic at the same time. This is especially true in the beginning as you have to make so many decisions like choosing a location that best fits the demographic you want to serve. 

You also have to be resourceful and know how to multi-task. When we first started J’s Pitaria, I was working full-time with a law firm and spent evenings and weekends at the restaurant. That was a challenge I had to overcome to be successful.

What excites you the most about being an entrepreneur?

I’m most excited about our potential to change people’s lives through our authentic Mediterranean food. Even our employees have become healthier by eating our food. I’ve also been able to build a strong team that shares our vision and that is exciting as well. They take care of the restaurant just like my husband or I would. As someone with a background in human resources, I know how hard it is to find a team like this. With them, we can offer the highest quality of food that makes our customers feel good and want to return on a daily basis.

Share with us some of the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

People told me that we were insane when we chose our current location for our business. One day we were driving around the city and we found an empty space that looked perfect for us. It turned out that it had been vacant for four years. Where others saw only a vacant room, I saw a blank canvas. After gutting it and dressing it up, we were able to turn it into a one-of-a-kind destination for our customers to experience authentic, healthy Mediterranean meals.  

You’ve got a high stake investment opportunity. Pitch your business in 150 words.

J’s Pitaria is home to hand-made, from-scratch Mediterranean food and artisan Somun bread, baked fresh daily in our stone brick oven. We truly believe that good food cannot be rushed, which is why we make our meals to-order. When you place your order, we hand-craft your meal using a medley of fresh, organic, premium ingredients to create a decadent, unforgettable Mediterranean experience. 

Absolutely nothing is frozen here; we make everything from scratch with pride in the traditional way. We take the time to create an organic, healthy meal for you – and each meal is worth the wait. Once you have our authentic Mediterranean cuisine, you won’t be able to resist coming back!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs?

You must believe in yourself – if you don’t, then no one else will. Then, build a team around you that shares your vision. Many people don’t understand how detrimental it can be to the business when employees feel underappreciated and uninvolved. On the other hand, a team that feels heard and valued can make a business soar. 

It’s my goal to let our team in on all the decisions we make. Before making menu changes, we all get together and discuss changing items and prices. This shows them that they are part of my team. If your team does well, then you will be successful. 

What are your goals for the upcoming year?

I want J’s Pitaria to become the best of the best in serving authentic, healthy Mediterranean cuisine throughout St. Louis. Right now, we’re working to educate our community on how healthy our food is and that it’s important to change negative eating habits. This is especially important in light of the global pandemic. 

People need to know that good food is not boring; it’s tastes wonderful, makes you feel better overall, and helps you stay strong and healthy. 

Any final words to end this interview?

Women – don’t be afraid to jump in and chase your dreams with all your strength. It’s absolutely possible to make them come true. Look at me – I immigrated to St. Louis, got a hard-earned education, met my husband (who also immigrated here), raised a son, and have started our restaurant together. Achieving the American dream is always within reach; you just need tenacity and unwavering confidence in yourself.

Connect and partner up with J’s Pitaria

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

Related Articles