Operation: Falafel is going international with the most ambitious homegrown Food & Beverage (F&B) worldwide expansion in UAE History with AWJ Investments opening three Operation: Falafel restaurants in top global food capitals – New York, London and Paris. The first of these is expected to open in New York in the second quarter of this year.
We spoke to Manhal Naser, CEO and Co-Founder of AWJ Investments, on Operation: Falafel, its expansion plans, and the popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine.
When and how did Operation: Falafel begin?
“Our first Operation: Falafel outlet was opened within The Beach retail and dining development, along Jumeirah Beach Residence’s The Walk in March 2014 and remains one of our most popular locations to date.
“The idea was born out of a need to bring authentic Middle Eastern ‘Street Food’ experience to a market that was curious and eager to try the cuisine. We felt that, over the years, the true spirit of the casual dining experience in the region was lost so made it our mission to revive it.”
How did the expansions plan come about? Why did you choose these particular countries?
“Making the decision to grow beyond our regional borders was huge for us, but we knew it was the right time to take the next step in the development of our flagship brand. We began with extensive market research, understanding the laws and requirements from each country and finally meticulously selecting our franchisee partners.
“In our case, we had an edge over other F&B brands in the region seeking an international presence because Operation: Falafel was initially developed for Western markets. Due to the high demand presented by western customers, we have set our global expansions plans to the western capital culinary cities. When you think of western capital culinary cities, your mind immediately thinks of London, Paris and New York, as ours did. These cities were our first priority to expand due to their significance and the size of their F&B markets. We wanted to start big and bold, which we think we’re doing!”
One could argue that these markets already have their fill of Middle Eastern restaurants. Given that, how is Operation Falafel going to create a niche for itself in these markets and influence the perceptions of Middle Eastern cuisine?
“We believe in our food and our concept. We are not only a brand, but we are also a community, growing worldwide, committed to authenticity by bringing this concept deep routed in Middle Eastern heritage into the present. We have witnessed a consistently high volume of demand from western customers for our products. Items like Hummus, Shawarma and Falafel are becoming very common and are the trendy choice in any western market. We have even been approached by many Western companies requesting our franchise for their markets. Today, our food segment is in huge demand in most of the Western markets as it has been underdeveloped in the past! We plan to bring exceptional flavour value and ambience to what is currently available in the market.”
The demands of today’s global customers versus the Middle Eastern heritage. How do you plan to balance the two in order to provide a complete dining experience?
“In order to ensure we are providing the quality and taste that our global customers demand we have done in-depth studies that have allowed us to establish the gaps in the market for a brand like Operation: Falafel from everything from markets offering, consumer behaviour and taste preferences to price sensitivity and competing brands.
“Maintaining the integrity of our food, is extremely important to us however, as we expanded globally, we knew we would need to adapt to the diverse palettes from across the globe. We have spent time understanding our key markets to ensure our food continues to showcase the finest of Arabian cuisine while mirroring some of the flavour profiles of aboard markets.
“We believe that while our food in the new market will be slightly different it will represent the essence of Middle Eastern that we are known for across the GCC. Therefore, it was important to establish our market penetration plans, although it was similar to our regional plans, we had to do a few tweaks in order to reduce the possibility of risk. For instance, we have excluded a few items for their strong authentic middle eastern appeal which do not suit westerners.”