A burger chain based in Toronto has followed Tim Hortons into the Middle East, a sign Canadian eateries are still hungry for growth in the region.
South St Burger on Friday opened a restaurant in Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, and plans further expansion in the region, in its first venture outside Canada.
The move follows last year's entry of the Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons, which has plans for a total of 120 outlets in the Middle East.
Asad Mahmood, the operations manager for South St Burger in Canada, in Dubai overseeing the launch, said the Ibn Battuta outlet would be followed by a restaurant in Jumeirah this year. "Right now, South St Burger is only in Canada. This is the first overseas franchise," he said.
Mr Mahmood said there were plans for at least five restaurants in the UAE. "We want to do five in a year. If we get better locations, we can get more than that. The UAE is a growing market. Every chain from all over the world - from retail to food - is here."
South St Burger, which was launched in 2005, is owned by the Canadian chain New York Fries, which has had a presence in the Middle East for many years.
Al Awael, the franchise partner for New York Fries, is also the local partner for South St Burger in the UAE, according to the Canadian company. No one from Al Awael could be reached for comment.
Tim Hortons launched in the UAE with a high-profile marketing drive.
Mr Mahmood said South St Burger would advertise its entry into the Middle East in local media and on billboards.
"We do have a marketing plan. But obviously we won't be able to do what Tim Hortons did because [it is] a huge company," he said.
Sahar Zareei, the operations manager for South St Burger in the GCC region, said the chain planned further branches outside the UAE.
"We are going to launch in other [Arabian] Gulf countries - anywhere we see the demand."
The eat-in restaurant at Ibn Battuta has received more than 500 customers since opening on Friday, Ms Zareei said.
"We actually had a Canadian from Toronto. He was very happy to see South St Burger here."
Ron Murphy, a Canadian citizen who lives in Dubai and works in operations at Emirates-CAE Flight Training, said he would pay a visit to the new restaurant.
"I've only had South St Burger a few times back home but any time a Canadian brand comes to the UAE I think it's great for us," he said.
But Mr Murphy added the brand was not as well known as Tim Hortons.
"Tim's has been around for a long time.
"It's like an institution back home, around every corner. It's kind of like the Starbucks of Canada," he said.
"South St is still growing - I don't think they're that popular yet. It's a little bit more upscale than the fast food stuff that you get. It's good."
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