Ibrahim Shallal, a director of HMS Steak, has just signed a franchise deal with Steak Escape, a large US fast-food chain, to bring the brand to the UAE.
The chain is known for its cheese -steaks, a sandwich made from thinly-sliced steak and melted cheese in a long roll. Here, he talks about his plans to expand here and in his home country Iraq.
You are an engineer by profession. Why did you get involved in a cheesesteak sandwich restaurant?
I'm a civil engineer by training and I've worked for 27 years in the United States and the United Kingdom. But in the 1990s, I also worked as a chef at a fusion Mediterranean restaurant for seven years in Portland, Oregon, in the US. I am passionate about food and know how the restaurant industry works. In 2008 I came to Dubai as an engineer and after two years left it to set up HMS Steak, a company where I'm one of the partners, in Dubai. Steak Escape is my first venture. We decided to bring the brand to the UAE because I liked their food. HMS Holding is the mother company. It brought Second Cup to Erbil, Iraq, last month.
Steak Escape started out in food courts in the US and now has a franchise in Saudi Arabia and two in Mexico. What model will it follow here?
The first restaurant in Business Bay, Dubai, will be set up in a food court but will have a casual dining arrangement. We plan to open 10 Steak Escape restaurants in three years and they will be a combination of casual dining restaurants and in food courts. The restaurants will be owned by HMS Steak or will be a sub franchise. We expect to open a Steak Escape in the next couple of months in Erbil.
How will you localise the menu?
We will take suggestions from our customers and will mould the menu according to local tastes. We will start with cheesesteak sandwiches, burgers and salads.
How many employees will you have?
For the first store, we will have 10 cooks. I personally visited the Philippines to recruit them. People in the Philippines are experienced in international cuisine and understand hygiene standards.
What about the competition?
We will have premium ingredients such as provolone and blue cheese and import quality raw meat from the US. But we will differentiate ourselves in the fact that we will grill the steak meat and make the sandwich in front of the customer to ensure fresh and healthy food. The customer can also decide what goes into the sandwich or on their plate throughout the cooking process.
* Sananda Sahoo
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