After moving to Dubai end of 2007, Abdul Kader Saadi, MD, helped to establish GLEE Hospitality in late 2010, quickly becoming a leading F&B player in the region. “The Gramercy was our first project, basically setting up a gastropub, and from that one we started getting more referrals through word of mouth,” Saadi observes. Having studied hotel management in Switzerland and with over a decade’s worth of industry experience in two of the world’s top gastronomical cities – Paris and London – Saadi was certainly well equipped to help GLEE make its mark in the region.
“The business has evolved from pure consultancy in terms of delivering full turnkey solutions – coming up with the concept, doing the branding, doing the design, the recruitment, creating the menu, securing locations – to an operational business where we also run and manage the business on behalf of the private investors,” Saadi explains.
“We also provide some services for businesses in terms of auditing, operational services, anyone looking to evaluate their business for selling, for M&A, franchising services – people looking to secure a franchise or to franchise out. We’ve branched out to all fields related to the F&B sector and as we’ve grown we’ve started working with more investment groups and more government entities. That’s where we are currently with GLEE.”
Franchising is the latest service launched by GLEE Hospitality. Euromonitor International predicts that the franchising model, especially in F&B, is geared for an annual growth of 7.4% until 2019 in the MENA region. “We are helping brands from Europe or the US to find a local partner and we are also helping local investors to find the right franchise from the rest of the world. We’re helping existing brands develop their franchise manuals to enable them to franchise out regionally,” enthuses Saadi. “Another department that we’ve set up is the advisory department which is helping some of the businesses to either raise capital, sell the business or to merge with other businesses.
“We have maybe 15-20 brands that work with us in terms of trying to find the right partner – we’re just working with them trying to connect the dots. Stage one is obviously just trying to find the right partner all the way to finalising the lease agreement and then also working with the local partner on implementing the franchise. A lot of the local partners here do not have F&B experience so we will show the brand ways to help the local partner and to make sure the franchise is well translated into the local market here. And, if the local partner wants, we can go one step further and manage it on their behalf.”
In just under a decade, GLEE Hospitality has successfully launched over 50 F&B concepts, and unveiled more than 70 outlets across the region, including the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Kuwait and Jordan. This is no mean feat in such a competitive market and GLEE Hospitality strives hard to differentiate itself. “I think we are brutally honest with clients. I’ve turned away some clients in the past where I felt that the concept’s not going to work, the project’s not going to work or where they’re not well-funded. One of the biggest failures of projects is underestimating the costs,” Saadi observes.
“I don’t want to lock anyone in and then six months down the line we can’t develop the project because they can’t pay the bills. We need to be honest with the client and be realistic on the return. We never tell the client that they’re going to pay back their investment in one year. We have to be realistic and if we’re lucky enough to pay it back in one year then great, that’s a bonus.”
The word of mouth nature of much of GLEE Hospitality’s business means it must be very careful about the projects it works on. “I want the client to be happy and I want the project to work. At the end of the day the success of the project is our success because we are really in the public eye,” explains Saadi. “Any project that we do is open for anyone to scrutinise. Most services are hidden behind offices and no one knows what’s going on there but a restaurant is very visible.”
GLEE Hospitality has achieved much over a short period of time, and this momentum shows no signs of slowing down – by the end of 2017 it plans to open The Roost in Dubai. “I think we will see a couple of opportunities both in the markets in the UAE and regionally. Regionally, we definitely want to expand into Saudi Arabia quite aggressively and Egypt. These are the two main big markets that we want to look at. As a company, we are still looking for a potential strategic partner to come onboard to allow us to expand into Saudi Arabia and grow our business,” states Saadi.
“We would like to work with more hotel operators. Dubai has over 80 hotels opening over the next two years and you would imagine every hotel has three outlets, so that’s 240 restaurants to develop. I don’t believe the hotel operators have the work force in house to develop all of those, so we’d like to see if we could work with some of the big operators.”