x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Shakespeare cafes seek a bigger stage

The Life: Shakespeare & Co, the local restaurant chain, is set to expand in the UAE as well as internationally for the first time - from Lebanon to Lexington, Kentucky. But could the beloved coffee chain lose some of its local luster?

Gaetan Herve, right, the general manager of Shakespeare and Co, with employees at the Dubai Marina Mall store.
Gaetan Herve, right, the general manager of Shakespeare and Co, with employees at the Dubai Marina Mall store.

The coffee chain Shakespeare and Co started in the UAE and now has a dozen locations countrywide. But as it plans to expand here and abroad in markets as diverse as Lebanon and Lexington, Kentucky, could the coffee house chain lose some of its local lustre? Gaetan Herve, the general manager, serves up his thoughts.


q What was Shakespeare's business model when it launched in 2001?

a The core of the business was - and is - the cafe restaurant. The menu got a little bigger as the years went by. The most important thing was you could show up at 2 in the afternoon and have your eggs Benedict. Or, if you want a steak at 7 in the morning you can. No one is telling you you can't - that's what worked well.

q Are there extra business costs for this convenience?

a To be honest, the only thing it does is make the kitchen's life difficult. A lot of restaurants don't do it because it requires a lot more storage space in a kitchen. We created menus with overlapping items that let us maximise our space in the kitchen whilst still continuing to deliver an extensive menu. An egg is used in many dishes: we have poached eggs in salad, or alone, for example.

q You have grown by rolling out pastry counters and selling flowers, plus offering catering. Where does the expansion work stand?

a In 2007, we started integrating pastry counters in all of our stores. All new stores have the flower element, and we're starting to retrofit some stores. [Catering] is centralised in Jebel Ali, where we receive, clean and cut. Everything is cooked fresh on site. It has grown phenomenally.

q Yet as you prepare to open new shops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are you at risk of losing cachet as a neighborhood cafe?

a We really target specific neighbourhoods and areas. We try to avoid having too many close together. There are two different locations we pick out: your community mall, [where] you go to Shakespeare and may stop [for] groceries. Another is a destination mall, [where] there's more tourists who end up at Shakespeare but the primary objective wasn't going there.

q Your first international franchises are set to open this year in Lebanon, Qatar and Oman. Why so many now?

a We found the right partners to go in there. We're very keen on expanding Shakespeare throughout the Middle East. We're currently looking for the right partners in Saudi and Kuwait, which are two huge markets.

q The US is another market of interest. But why Lexington, Kentucky?

a That is a franchised outlet and there's close links to the UAE in Lexington, with Sheikh Mohammed having ranches there. A lot of Emiratis go to universities there, and it's a booming region at the moment. Before we go to the Bostons and New Yorks, we'll test the concept in the heartland.