Lebanon leading the Franchising Industry in the Middle East

08Aug09

LFA - Lebanese Franchising AssociationKabab-Ji, the popular Lebanese grill, is expected to open in Washington, DC at the end of this year.

Kabab-Ji, which already has 28 franchises throughout the Middle East, is not the only outlet to take its brand outside its borders. Upscale coffee shop Casper & Gambini’s is not far behind with 22 regional operations, while Zaatar w Zeit is catching up with seven outlets in the United Arab Emirates alone.

We Lebanese are the number-one franchisors in the entire Middle East and North Africa,” said Khaled Taki of Franchise Business Consultants, a company based in Lebanon.

The Lebanese diaspora phenomenon has also aided the export of local restaurant franchises, as expatriates who come back in the summer take news of Lebanon’s eateries home with them.

As Lebanon provides the concepts, while the familiar neighboring countries provide the capital, the Lebanese franchise industry has developed a mutual relationship with the oil-rich Gulf States as they boomed over the past decade.  “The secondary location is always the Gulf,” said Taki.

Indeed, the food court at Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates provides a sense of familiarity for Lebanese visitors. Overlooking the famous indoor ski slope is Karam, the restaurant specializing in Lebanese cuisine that first opened in Beyrouth’s Centre-Ville. Nearby stands Salmontini, whose first outlet is nestled in the bustling Gemmayzeh neighborhood. Next to the movie theatres sits a branch of La Piazza, while Zaatar w Zeit serves mall goers the same manakeesh that Lebanese have been indulging in since 1999, when the eatery first opened in Achrafieh.

The most attractive and most active franchise destination today for franchisors is the Sultanate of Oman…it is a very nice country with a very nice clean-cut system to work in, and it is booming all of a sudden,” said Taki.

Lebanese company Ghia Holding, which owns already-franchised eateries Al Sultan Al Brahim, Abdel Wahab and Duo, recently expanded the company into Libya, opening Al-Saraya restaurant in the capital, Tripoli. This is a move, which, according to Taki, will soon be followed by many, as Libya is becoming a prime market for foreign investment.

Libya may seem like an odd market for Lebanese businesses, given the two countries’ less-than-perfect relations over the years, but “politics has nothing to do with franchising,” said Taki.

Indeed, Lebanon may have its problems, but the Lebanese Franchise Association offers a glimmer of optimism. “Great nations make great brands,” it proclaims, and by this standard Lebanon fares exceptionally well.

The Middle Eastern franchise industry is worth $30 billion annually and has a growth rate of 25% per year, according to a 2008 report by AME Info.


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