Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Just Falafel franchise refocuses on the food

With the menu in desperate need of revamping, Just Falafel's founder hired a new chef, Gerard Murphy, and told him: “If it’s not ‘wow’ I don’t want it on the menu”.
Mohamad Bitar, founder and managing director of Just Falafel. Sarah Dea / The National
Mohamad Bitar, founder and managing director of Just Falafel. Sarah Dea / The National

Just Falafel’s founder, Mohamad Bitar, admitted recently that the chain “fell in love with franchising and somehow forgot about the food”.

The realisation dawned on him about six months ago as the brand moved into the United States, he says. JF has about 42 restaurants in nine countries and has sold more than 800 franchises.

This crisis of confidence prompted Bitar to consult Shelley Rosen, a former global brand executive at McDonald’s, who told him bluntly that the menu had “a lot of variety but no choice”. In other words, yes, there was a lot of falafel – but not much else.

Bitar also went back into his own kitchen and tasted the food.

“Every item on the menu was [rubbish],” he says. “It wasn’t how it was when I started out.

“We took 95 per cent of the items off the menu, leaving only the drinks and the bread.”

With the menu in desperate need of revamping, he hired a new chef, Gerard Murphy, telling him: “If it’s not ‘wow’ I don’t want it on the menu.”

The new menu bans preservatives and demands each offering be low in calories.

The new menu reconnects with the business’s original street-food concept.

Starting with the Dubai Marina location, the restaurants are also getting a makeover: graffiti on the walls, stark wood and steel furniture.

As for the food? Bitar sent his chef to Egypt and Lebanon to learn from the best street vendors, resulting in more authentic and fluffy hummus. Tabbouleh is given a protein punch with the addition of quinoa, while sweet potato wedges come baked or fried. And the falafel? The team spent more than two months reworking the recipe, ultimately dropping the fava beans and sticking to chickpeas. Celery and parsley were added for some extra greenery.

There is also a secret ingredient that keeps the falafel light and crispy for longer – important when it comes to home deliveries. Baked falafel is now prepared in the restaurant, instead of reheated from frozen.

And capitalising on the latest healthy trend, at Just Falafel you can skip the bread and build your own healthy bowl.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: November 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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