FIRST WOODBEES FRANCHISE OPENED IN 2017

Lebanon 2018 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Assaad Bou Habib, Vice President of Wooden Bakery, on the healthy fast food concept, franchising, and overseas expansion.

What is the concept behind Wooden Bakery and Woodbees?

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. In May 2015, Bou Habib Holding opened Woodbees, a house of sandwiches that combines the simplicity of the fast food, along with the finesse of the casual dining. Our motto is to provide healthy, tasty food that is a combination between eastern and western cultures. 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 the fast food, along with the finesse of the casual dining. Our motto is to provide healthy, tasty food that is a combination between 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. We offer many kinds of freshly baked bread, including gluten free.

How many franchises do you plan to have by the end of this year?

We opened the first and currently the only Woodbees franchise at the end of 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. We prefer to enter the UK and Europe as a franchise. We successfully opened Wooden Bakery through franchising in Qatar and Dubai; however, the minimum investment required is negotiable and depends on the feasibility study done in each country because to start 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 as much control on the operation in order to maintain consistency between the branches.

What are your international expansion plans?

We are ready to expand internationally. Wooden Bakery launched the first franchised operation in 2002 and expanded to 52 outlets spread across Lebanon. We were named the “Fastest-growing company in Lebanon" in 2011. We have been present in Saudi Arabia since 2009 with six outlets and are currently expanding our factory there. Operations in Qatar will begin in six months, with five outlets opening in the first two years. In 2018, we created a joint ventured in Dubai as well and a plant is under development. The board is currently conducting a feasibility study to develop a new plant in Chekka to supply the northern region. We also purchased the land near our plant in Antelias for future expansion plans as well. As for Woodbees, the flagship outlet is on Zalka Highway, and we opened our first franchise in Gemmayze end of 2017.

How many Woodbees outlets would you like to see by the end of 2018?

I do not expect too many outlets in Lebanon because the economy here is bad and investors cannot be easily found as everybody is having problems. Another challenge is the high price of real estate in the Beirut region limiting the opportunities for franchising in that area. We expect to go overseas and are currently fielding interest from Dubai.