Financial help: Hancock students get unexpected treat

On Tuesday, Hancock High School (HCH) seniors in Brian Irizarry’s personal finance class had a bit of a change of pace thanks to guest speaker Fouad Catrib.

“I’m basically just trying to give them a little bit of insight about what it’s like owning a business,” Catrib said before speaking to the class. 

Irizarry’s personal finance class fills a math requirement at HCH and is recommended for both students who intend on going to college and students who intend on joining the workforce immediately after high school. Catrib, who recently sold his restaurant in Grand Rapids and is a close personal friend of Irizarry, was excited at the opportunity to speak to the class.

“I think it’s really great to have [a personal finance class]. You and I didn’t have that,” Catrib said. “How great it would be to know how to deal with money in high school. We had to go out into the world and figure that out for ourselves.” 

The guest speaker was surprisingly relatable to the students.

“The reason my name is so interesting is because both of my parents are from a country called Lebanon… but I was born in L’Anse and grew up in Houghton,” Catrib told the students. “I recently sold a business in Grand Rapids, and that’s a huge change for me. I’m kind of in the same space as you: I don’t really know what I want to do next.” 

Catrib quickly caught the students up to date on his life. After attending Houghton High School, he went to Tech for two years, the whole time working in his mother’s restaurant, Marie’s (Catrib’s) Deli, in the space that is now Victoria’s Kitchen on Shelden Avenue in Houghton. After that, Catrib moved to Grand Rapids where he continued to work in the restaurant industry. Six years later, Catrib’s mother moved to Grand Rapids and opened up a new restaurant, which Catrib helped to run. He has run and owned the business himself for the last fourteen years but recently sold it for around $1M.

“After I did sell the business, I’m a little bit lost but I am hopeful because I have so many more interests besides running the family business,” said Catrib.  

The money from selling the business is more than enough to give Catrib some time to think. Despite his success, he lives a fairly frugal life and stressed the importance of saving money to the class.

“Saving money is so important to your quality of life,” said Catrib.

Along with the restaurant business, saving money was something that Catrib learned from his mother.

“In her good graces, she saved substantial amounts of money,” said Catrib. “When she needed a loan to buy the building [in Grand Rapids], she paid it off aggressively.” 

Saving money was not the only immediately applicable lesson that Catrib shared with the students. He also spoke a good deal on how to approach job offers based on his experiences hiring. He encouraged them to always keep an up-to-date resume and gave them some advice for handling interviews.

“The way that I hire employees is I sit down with them for literally three minutes,” said Catrib. “You can learn a lot about a person in three minutes.” 

Catrib also talked about “working interviews” in which potential employees work a shift on a trial basis.

“After the working interview, I asked everyone that they worked with ‘How’d they do?’ and they tell me to hire or not,” said Catrib.  

Catrib also gave the students some concise advice on pay.

“You have to make a living wage; a wage that’s enough to get by,” said Catrib.

He also pointed out that what constitutes a “living wage” depends on the cost of living in the area, pointing out that he paid his entry-level employees around $18 per hour because Grand Rapids is an expensive place to live. 

After asking for a show of hands, two of the students indicated that they planned on joining their family’s businesses after school, leading to a conversation on the merits of owning your own business.

“Owning your own business is really great. It gives you freedom and it lets you develop your passion,” said Catrib. “You’re making the decisions that directly impact your business. It’s really hard.” 

Catrib also pointed out that sometimes your plan does not work out and that is okay.

“When you fail at something, that’s a really good thing. It forces you to learn what you want to do next,” said Catrib. 

Catrib certainly did not fail as a restaurateur, but he still has to decide what he wants to do next. He did not seem interested in taking up a career in public speaking, but hopefully Irizarry’s class was able to learn a thing or two from their guest speaker.