Assaad Bou Habib

Assaad Bou Habib

CEO, Wooden Bakery
Mahmoud Sobh

Mahmoud Sobh

General Manager, Zaatar W. Zeit
‚ÄčLebanese cuisine enjoys huge popularity across the world, and companies are eyeing global success after striking a chord with niche markets in the country.

What is the concept and idea behind your business?

ASSAAD BOU HABIB Edward Bou Habib founded Wooden bakery in 1969. Over the last decade, we revolutionized the bakery industry by setting new standards and upgrading our products range and services by offering more and delivering better. The first Wooden Bakery retail outlet opened at a prime location in Lebanon on Zalka highway in 1999. There are currently many competitors in the bakery market, and we use that to always strive to be better. We continuously research new and healthier trends, improve our packaging, and seek higher-quality products. In May 2015, Bou Habib Holding opened Woodbees, a house of sandwiches that combines the simplicity of fast food, along with the finesse of casual dining. Our motto is to provide healthy, tasty food that is a combination of eastern and western cultures. With over 30 sandwiches ranging from Lebanese grills to fusion, we use the best and freshest ingredients and a hands-free grilling machine.

MAHMOUD SOBH The Lebanese people are entrepreneurial and come up with new ways of doing things. Following that trend, we thought it would be nice to offer a higher standard of street food with consistent quality and hygiene. There is great packaging, a quality system, and a safety system in place; we received our ISO 22000 certification, which was renewed in March. We are extremely proud to be the first quick casual restaurant chain to acquire it. We are always looking to improve food quality, food safety, and the consistency of that offering.

What are your expansion plans?

ABH We opened the first and currently the only Woodbees franchise at end-2017. We are fine-tuning this concept in Lebanon and plan to move the concept to Europe and North America. Our food safety standards align well with western requirements. For example, in many Lebanese shawarma restaurants, there is a huge spindle of meat open to the elements standing out all-day long. However, our idea is to develop special skewers enclosed in individual vacuum pack, and they are grilled to order. At present, our preference is to enter the UK and Europe. We successfully opened Wooden Bakery through franchising in Qatar and Dubai. The minimum investment required is negotiable and depends on the feasibility study in each country because in order to expand to a new market, we need a minimum of three outlets and a central factory kitchen that produces for those locations; only a certain number of people can afford such an investment. In contrast, we created Woodbees as a lower-cost investment. We can open a new business for a much lower investment capital, and it is more accessible and easier to expand and grow the brand. Franchising allowed Wooden Bakery brand to expand faster into the market. Over the years, we have gained experience in choosing the right locations, dealing with the best suppliers, minimizing risks, and gaining control of the operation in order to maintain consistency.

MS We have established one franchise in Vancouver, Canada, which is a flagship corporate location. There are many new Lebanese concepts that seek to franchise in the region; however, they eventually go under because they did not conduct proper market research. First and foremost, we do not want to give the name to just anyone; they have to be a professional outfit that can take care of the brand in order to ensure that it is successful. We do not take our success in Canada for granted; we are doing a great deal of research and are employing best-in-class marketing companies. We are reviewing our concept to make it relevant for western consumers as well. We are taking our time with the first one; we want to own our first outlet to ensure control over quality and make sure it is commercially viable. The major difference between the markets in the Middle East, Europe, and North America is the cost of labor, so there is a need to take that into consideration and make the necessary adjustments to the business model. The margins in the Food and Beverage industry in North America are tighter. For example, if a store turns over USD1 million and its average profit is USD50,000, having an extra worker would eat up the entire profits. One needs to manage business differently in the West, which is why we are opening our own outlets, controlling them, and optimizing them before expanding through franchising.