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GDK CEO: “We’re going to open one store a week”

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GDK CEO: “We’re going to open one store a week”

When it comes to market penetration, German Doner Kebab, a food and beverage frontrunner, is setting standards

When it comes to market penetration, German Doner Kebab, a food and beverage frontrunner, is setting standards

Interview originally conducted March 9, 2020.

If you haven’t yet heard of German Doner Kebab (GDK), you soon will. The brand’s healthy spin on the classic late-night, post-nightclub treat has been around since 1989, but it’s only in the past 12 months or so that international expansion has really elevated GDK to make it a serious competitor in the food and beverage franchising space.

With over 600 franchisees signed up, and 350 new restaurants planned to open across the next seven years, the brand is on the precipice of something big. As such, now seemed the perfect time to sit down with Imran Sayeed, GDK’s global CEO, to chat growth, delivery, and the revitalization of the kebab.

Interview by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise.

KM: It seems like only the past year that GDK announced many of its international growth opportunities – what made now the right time?

IS: The U.K. is our home turf and has been a huge focus for our brand in recent years. In the last two years, we opened 41 restaurants in the U.K. and have been successfully running all of them.

Acceptance has been really widespread. We don’t base ourselves in the QSR segment – we’re in a more fast-casual environment. The experience that we give our guests has really complemented our growth, and our restaurants are now very chic and trendy. The product, experience, and ambiance all came together for a recipe for success.

We’ve championed the brand here in the U.K. and have been able to tweak things to make it more appealing, which really changed the game for us. So now, we’ve done a lot of international development sign-ups in the U.S. and Canada. Saudi Arabia’s another really important market for us, where we have a 100-store development agreement in place.

“The product, experience, and ambiance all came together for a recipe for success”

KM: What kind of franchising model do you opt for when entering these new markets?

IS: In the U.S. and Canada, we have kept the brand to ourselves. We’ve used regional development or multi-unit developers because these are huge countries.

In the U.S., the strategy is to focus on certain markets that we’ve identified based on many factors like diversity, spend, and tourism. In the north-east, that means New York, New Jersey, D.C., Virginia, and then south toward Florida, Georgia, and Texas, and then west toward California. Potentially midwest in Chicago, too.

When you come across into Europe, and then go east, these are all master franchisees. So Sweden, the Middle East (except for UAE), Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and we’ve just signed a deal in Pakistan, which is also a master.

Looking ahead, we’re closing some deals going into Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. These are all master franchise agreements.

KM: In Canada and the U.S., where you’re looking for individuals or groups, what sort of franchisees are you partnering with?

IS: I’ll give you an example: in Texas, we found a 300-store KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut franchisee. He’s a very successful food and beverage operator who’s been with Yum! Brands for many years. He’s now signed up a multi-unit development agreement in Texas with us, for Houston and Dallas.

Our partner in New York is also in food and beverage; they’re the regional developers for Cousins Maine Lobster. In Toronto, we have franchisees who are coming in from Popeyes. In British Columbia, we have an area developer from Subway.

It’s mostly food and beverage, because the thing is, F&B can be a very different game. Sometimes it’s a struggle for people without that background, and they have challenges with schematics and P&O. It’s a unique proposition, but saying that, we’re open to people who aren’t in this business.

KM: As well as kebabs, you offer staple items like burgers and quesadillas; do you adapt the brand’s offering for specific markets?

IS: Our consumers are very diverse and they have different palettes. We set out certain products on our menu to complement varied backgrounds and diversity. If you look at our menus in the U.K., the Middle East, or Sweden, it’s all the same. There aren’t any localized products.

This has been a really successful model for us. However, if there’s something we can introduce to accommodate customers in certain countries, we are open to adapting. In general, though, I’d like to keep the offering the same.

“In the last two years, we opened 41 restaurants in the U.K. and have been successfully running all of them”

KM: How has the rise of food delivery impacted GDK?

IS: We launched delivery in 2017, and we were skeptical going in, because I was worried it would cannibalize our dine-in and take-away sales. Funnily enough, when we introduced delivery, it actually saw a spike in our other sales due to awareness. People who weren’t aware of the brand were ordering from delivery portals that weren’t previously available, and they then came into our restaurants.

Today, delivery makes up about 30 per cent of our sales and it’s growing week over week.

KM: What does 2020 hold for the brand?

IS: We’re planning to open about 30 U.K. stores, and another 20 internationally. Moving forward, we’re going to open one store a week somewhere in the world. Vancouver’s opening April 29, and then Ottowa, which will be May 26. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we’re expecting to open the first week of June. There’s also going to be our first stores coming to Pakistan, which will open in July. By August, we should have a presence in Vancouver, Ottowa, New York, New Jersey, and Toronto. Ireland will be opening its first GDK location in the fourth quarter of this year.

Europe will be a big thing, and in France at the moment, there are discussions happening. If we do things right there, we’ve got significant potential for continued growth.

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