A ‘healthy’ home-grown business built on trust

Rupkatha Bhowmick

Andreas Borgmann and Mark Carroll – the duo that popularised the idea of healthy food concepts in the UAE through their brand Kcal – actually had a chance meeting through common friends. Both shared common interests in cars and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Soon they started training in the gym together. That’s when they began struggling to eat healthy after the workout sessions. They thought of setting up a place a where they could eat healthy every day, not having to worry about calories, carbohydrates, sugar and processed ingredients.

They were keen to open a restaurant that promoted clean and healthy eating, where nutrition details would be displayed, so consumers exactly knew what they were consuming. Back then the idea of displaying nutritional information was entirely novel, which is now becoming mandatory. Back then both of them had existing businesses. And they decided to put some money on the side and start a small restaurant. It led to the opening of the first Kcal restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) in 2010.

During a conversation with us, Borgmann and Carroll shared how well this not-such-a planned move around starting a business has worked out for them. While Carroll’s role in the company is more consumer-facing, handling branding, marketing and business development, Borgmann is more engaged in operations managing the food, nutrition aspects and so on.

“When we started, we didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever of the food business, except that we both enjoyed and appreciated high-quality food. We started the Kcal business based on complete trust. We didn’t even draw up a formal partnership agreement. Everything was verbal and based on faith for the first three-or-four years until the business started getting bigger. We didn’t focus on many aspects that a start-up normally should,” said Borgmann.

“We didn’t focus on what exactly we wanted in our business partner. Today we are wiser in selecting the right franchise partners, drawing up a business plan, doing feasibility studies and competitor analysis. We were fortunate to have each other as trustworthy business partners. Things could have quickly gone wrong, but it didn’t, and now our goal is to innovate and grow the business continually,” Carroll stated.

Currently, there are 12 restaurants in the UAE, of which three – at JLT, Business Bay and Mirdif – are owned. The first Kcal restaurant opened recently in Kuwait. Qatar may soon follow and the founders are in talks with Saudi Arabia too.

“We also started the franchise business, and today we have four franchisees. Since the time we began franchising, we have received over 1,300 requests globally. But we ended up franchising only around 10 locations; we select the franchise partners very carefully. So far we have been lucky to have good franchise partners,” Carroll pointed out.

Elaborating on the model, Borgmann added, “Kcal is an innovative holistic health food company. We have created different divisions for all kinds of health food oriented requirements. We have the Kcal restaurants for those who want to eat quick but nutritious food. We have Kcal Extra serving convenient, healthy and diet food to a specific audience. We have Fuel Up for those who are slightly more serious about their food intake. Besides, two of our latest divisions include Gourmet by Kcal restaurant at Mina Seyahi – which is an upscale version of Kcal catering for those looking for a healthy fine-dining sort of a set-up – and Kcal GO, our grab-and-go retail product for which we have partnered with the likes of 7-Eleven and VOX Cinemas. Through all our offerings we have created a one-stop shop providing high-quality, healthy food.”

Summarising their goals for Kcal, Borgmann and Carroll shared, “Three years from now we plan to take the divisions we have grown so far to the next level outside the Middle East to different parts of Europe and eventually other parts of the world through franchising. We are already deep into feasibility studies for Europe, in markets like Germany. We might even create a European headquarter if the plan works out well.”