I have always dreamed of starting my own coffee shop since I loved making it and my friends told me that I make a mean cup of coffee. However, the coffee culture is not that strong where I live in Pakistan. Therefore I dropped this idea as owning a shop space would require a huge amount of capital and resources.
In 2019, I travelled to Singapore and saw some really cool pop-up stores, housed in simple containers. I was so inspired that I decided to take the idea home, and start my own business in a similar set-up that was simple and cost-effective.
After discussing the idea with my family, we decided to start a sugar cane juice business. It made perfect sense as Pakistan is the 6th largest grower of sugar cane in the world. Sugar cane juice also provides a refreshing and healthy alternative to carbonated drinks in the hot summers. With the support of my friends and family, we put together a business plan and started looking for a suitable location for the business.
My entrepreneurial journey has not been easy. It’s been an uphill task trying to convince land owners that people with intellectual disabilities like myself are capable of running a successful business. Over the past year, we met with a lot of resistance. Many people we approached turned us away. They didn’t believe in the cause, and couldn’t see the value in such an inclusive business. They refused to rent us a space.
My mother Lubna, has been a force to be reckoned with throughout this process. It has taken her months – fighting multiple battles and persuading many people – to finally make this dream come true. The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help as well. Businesses were not allowed to operate for months, and we were forced to postpone the opening of the juice bar.
On 3 October, 2020, all our hard work and dreams finally came to fruition. Squeezy Juice Bar was opened outside a megastore, J-Mart, and the opening party was attended by almost 70 people. Since then, we have been getting emails and calls from the community wanting to find out more, or offering to volunteer with us.
It’s been less than a month since the opening, but we are already trying to diversify by offering more flavours. Apart from sugar cane juice, we now sell apple, pomegranate, and grape juice as well.
I work with two professionals who help provide training at the juice bar so that I will learn how to run the business efficiently. Soon, two other people with intellectual disabilities will be employed and trained as well.
My hope is to be able to work independently and earn my own living. My vision is that people with ID will all be given employment opportunities, and be empowered with skills to eventually run their own businesses. Over time, I hope to see Squeezy Juice Bar expand not just across Pakistan, but around the world.
All the love and support I have been blessed with from friends, family, and the Special Olympics community has enabled me to fulfil my dream. I now want to do the same for others.
My name is Haseeb Abbasi. I have autism. I am a business owner.”
*Special thanks to the Defence Housing Authority, land owners of J-mart.