Middle East seen as hot growth market

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Foodservice brands have been taking advantage of this good reception

Western foodservice brands large and small have been hitting international growth milestones in the Middle East and Gulf states recently, with many others looking to make inroads in this region that is increasingly receptive to restaurants.

Caribou Coffee, the 585-unit coffeehouse chain, opened its 100th international unit last month in Istanbul, Turkey. The location, operated by Turkish company Yildiz Holding in partnership with Caribou’s master franchisee, Al Sayer Group, is the sixth unit of the coffeehouse chain to open in Turkey. Al Sayer operates 89 of the chain’s international units in Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Caribou chief executive Mike Tattersfield said the Middle East and Gulf states would be a major piece of the company’s international portfolio, which he hopes to grow to 350 units.

“The Middle East has a really strong coffee culture, which was very appealing to us,” Tattersfield said. “So much business and interaction is done over cups of coffee.”

The region also has robust consumer culture, said Jonathan Spiel, owner of Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose first franchised agreement will cover not the United States but Kuwait.

“It’s a very social culture, and going to malls and socializing is a big part of their day,” Spiel said. “Because of that, the malls there are unbelievable: Every brand you can think of is there, and the locals want to develop something unique and cool.”

Spiel added that the operator who will franchise Tea Lounge in the region recruited him, not the other way around, showing just how hungry for Western restaurant concepts consumers in the region really are. He and his franchise partner are scouting about four different large mall locations in Kuwait City.

‘You need the wow factor’

Atlanta-based Wing Zone has nearly 100 restaurants, including four in Panama and one each in the Bahamas and Saudi Arabia. Another location is under construction in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Chief executive Matt Friedman said the 3,000-square-foot Wing Zone in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is the company’s largest unit in the world and is “doing phenomenally.”

“You definitely need the wow factor,” he said. “When people walk in, they want to see this is an American brand. It incorporates a lot of our new prototype [from the United States], but we took it up a notch.”

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