x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Cafe2go to for the camel

The Life: Perhaps the ultimate measure of Jassim Albastaki's success with Cafe2go is that the man who was rejected as a franchisee in 2009 has become a franchiser himself.

Jassim Albastaki offers some of his trademark products at the Gulfood trade exhibition in Dubai late last month. Satish Kumar / The National
Jassim Albastaki offers some of his trademark products at the Gulfood trade exhibition in Dubai late last month. Satish Kumar / The National

At the end of 2009, Jassim Albastaki was casting around for business ideas. Getting the master franchise for one of the food and beverage chains not already in the UAE seemed a good way to go. But of the four companies he contacted, two failed to return his calls; one said no outright; and the fourth shocked him with its high franchise fee.

He decided to invest his money in creating and building his own brand.

"I will create a unique concept," he recalls thinking. "I will create a brand for the UAE and go global."

When he analysed the market, he saw that the major coffee chains all had very similar offerings, but in Asia the chains used soya milk and rice milk. He decided to draw on his Middle Eastern heritage and do something with camel milk. He would call his chain Cafe2go and introduce a branded camel milk called Camellos.

"My unique concept [is] camel products: from the milk to the meat, drink to food," says Mr Albastaki, who was an exhibitor at the Gulfood trade show in Dubai last month. "UK, US investors will take a chance [on me because] I am giving them something different. There, they cannot have a camelccino."

Or, for that matter, a "camel juice" - a blend of camel milk and the customer's choice of orange, lemon or strawberry juice.

Two generations ago, consumption of camel milk was common, according to Mr Albastaki. But slowly this has changed.

The entrepreneur was yet more firmly convinced of his concept when he realised how healthy camel milk is compared with cow's milk. It's much lower in fat, has 10 times more iron and three times more vitamin C.

Concept decided upon, the next hurdle was making it palatable. Camel milk is quite salty and has a different density from cow's milk. But Mr Albastaki created a secret blend at his coffee factory in Spain (another part of his business is supplying hotels and restaurants in the Middle East with coffee and coffee machines). He also experimented with the milk - temperature, steaming technique and the like.

The result was a beverage as delicious as a regular coffee, Mr Albastaki says. He also started experimenting with camel meat - especially how to make it tender - so as to be able to introduce a range of camel snacks: fajitas, mortadella, hot dogs and burgers.

Camel meat is considered one of the healthiest red meats with low cholesterol.

While this experimentation was initially tricky, the benefit is that it now hinders competitors who are trying to copy his idea.

At the same time as he was developing his products, Mr Albastaki was engaged in an epic clash of wills with officials at Dubai Municipality, the Roads and Transport Authority and the Department of Economic Development, who were resistant to his idea of a mobile coffee shop, it never having been done before in Dubai.

At a recent conference on entrepreneurship, Mr Albastaki recalled his 11-month war of bureaucratic attrition and concluded by saying: "Never think negatively. Always stay positive. You should [guide] each government official; he should not guide you."

He was insistent about the mobile coffee shop because, again, it was a new idea for the UAE, it meant being able to reach a wider range of customers and it meant offering another element of flexibility to those who might want to invest in his franchise.

"I'm flexible in size, investment, menu - that is also part of the business concept," he says. "We have kiosks, pushcarts, big outlets."

As well as the mobile unit, Cafe2go has branches in Dubai in the Murooj Rotana hotel, on Sheikh Zayed Road and, within two months, in the Dubai Airport Freezone. This will be a drive-through.

Perhaps the ultimate measure of Mr Albastaki's success is that the man who was rejected as a franchisee in 2009 has become a franchiser himself.

He has already sold Cafe2go franchises for Qatar and Libya, and talks are in the "final stages" for deals in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Singapore. There is also interest in Egypt.

"We have so many people interested," he says. Getting to "the US, UK, Europe with my brand - that is not difficult. I have a nice, unique product concept and business concept. I am bringing an Arabian touch in a modern style."

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae