Slowly charred, crispy on the outside, with a mixture of chickpeas, fresh herbs, and spices that are fried into small patties or balls… Pitas packed with crunchy hot falafels, served with a handful of salty pickles and piping hot French fries. I gobbled up the region’s most beloved curbside snack – Falafels — before interviewing the founder of Dubai’s much-loved Arabic fast chain eatery Operation: Falafel. Making street food cool again, the brand opened its first outlet within The Beach retail and dining development, along Jumeirah Beach Residences’ The Walk in March 2014.
Since then, it has grown to a total of 46 outlets globally with plans to expand to 400 units in a couple of years. Mastered in offering a contemporary take on traditional Arabic street food flavours, the founder Manhal Naser opened up about his journey. “Middle Eastern food can be found all over the world with varied recipes and ingredients. My partner and I started to notice the morphing of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine to include modern ingredient combinations. For us, hummus, falafel, shawarma are food that we grew up on. We valued the authenticity of this cuisine and noticed that there was no established brand in the market that offered fresh, authentic, Middle Eastern street food. Out of the desire to fill this gap, the Operation: Falafel concept was born. The “Operation:” stood for our mission to bring back the authenticity of the traditional foods that we grew up on,” said Manhal Naser, founder of Operation:Falafel
Perfecting one recipe at a time, Operation: Falafel works on a specialised model that helps serve food that isn’t just cooked and plated, but handcrafted and presented by chefs who are masters of traditional Arabic street food – inside a contemporary space. “We are proudly Dubai-born, and I’m extremely pleased with the growth and expansion,” he said.
The brand’s consistent growth is a testament to its ability to shift business priorities in response to changing market needs. The chain is moving full steam ahead and will continue investing in innovative technology solutions that allow for continued expansion of delivery zones as well as an enhanced 10 to 12-minutes delivery timeline. Currently, the F&B chain delivers to 118 areas across the city of Dubai.
Reflecting on the evolution of his company, Manhal said, “It began with tackling a niche. When we started planning, we wanted a brand with a certain DNA – the likes of street food where many elements are served – authenticity, variety, consistency, and set pricing. Our aim was to become a brand that can be launched and extended across the Middle Eastern market, western world and eventually the globe”.
Owned by AWJ Investments, the brand has kicked off to a strong 2022 and is seeing a significant growth of 33% as a result of accelerated delivery. Furthermore, delivery aggregators have confirmed that Operation Falafel is one of the top performing brands with customer retention and conversion rate currently at approximately 60% (the common market rate is 25%-30%). “It has turned out to be a very successful venture. Since 2014, we have expanded within the UAE (our local market), followed by KSA (Riyadh, Al Khobar, Al Dammam), and today we are proud to say that we have kickstarted our expansion into the West with OF establishing branches in both New York City and London,” he stated.
Even though they had a clear vision of serving Falafels, implementing it in an oversaturated F&B market of Dubai wasn’t an easy feat to achieve. “We had to focus on building our brand name, awareness, customer loyalty and most importantly satisfaction through a product that guaranteed customer retention. I made it my personal mission to ensure that consistency is at the heart of everything we do. Challenges never end in our world. We focus on each challenge and ensure that it is resolved, and that a process is built to ensure this problem doesn’t arise in the future,” he added.
Dubai is one of the most advanced F&B hubs in the world. As an entrepreneurship-welcoming city, Dubai has opened its doors to individuals from all over the globe to come and showcase their F&B concepts. The food service sector, as part of the entertainment & hospitality industry, is now enjoying great traction in the UAE and KSA, where people tend to visit restaurants not only for food but also for entertainment and the experience – it is very much a lifestyle.
Trying to be innovative or continuing to distinguish yourself in a very competitive F&B market in Dubai is another challenge restaurant chain have to go through. Keeping the UAE & KSA as the main markets, Operation:Falafel’s estimated business growth for the year 2022 stands at 38%. “Our business momentum growth has always been in double digits year-on-year. We are extremely proud and humbled by the success of OF. It all starts with our product; developing our menu is truly an experience. We ensure we do all the research possible to give our customers the best dishes & an unforgettable taste. Additionally, we take our customers feedback very seriously, we thrive to ensure that we meet their expectations. We want our customers to know and crave our taste Falafels and be able to find it anywhere around the world,” stated Manhal.
As is the case with any entrepreneur, for Manhal, sky is the limit with no intention of slowing down. “OF is a very scalable brand because it caters to a specific DNA that addresses a market gap or follows a market trend. It is however, key to ensure your brand has a particular USP that distinguishes the concept and stands out amongst the tough competition within the market.”
Operation:Falafel has a series of five outlets set to be established throughout the UAE and Saudi Arabia in 2022, along with the opening of its first unit in London, UK. After it’s US debut in June 2021, Operation: Falafel is set to also drive the US franchise further with 9 additional units in New York City soon. “Our vision is to see Operation: Falafel flourish internationally in the MENA region, Europe, Asia and the Americas, as we expand our strategic partnerships through franchising. We have an expansion plan that will eventually be rolled out across 72 markets. We are still at the initial phase of franchising, and have seen huge demand across the Middle East followed by Europe and the US market. We haven’t even covered 10% of the targeted demand, so we have a long, exciting road ahead of us,” concluded Manhal.
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