Kuwait’s Gourmania stretches Ruby Tuesday
Through its master franchisee partnership with Gourmania International, Ruby Tuesday will have restaurants in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar, developed by the local ‘zee, Al Bairaq Trading & Export. The capital city, Doha (above), will likely get a few locations.
While casual dining remains a challenged segment for chain restaurants in the United States as consumers cut back or shift their spending to those faster, limited-service concepts, the appeal of a sit-down family meal remains in many international markets.
Mahmoud Mousavi sees the demand first-hand in Kuwait and throughout other markets in the Middle East and North Africa.
“American casual dining is still a big hit in our area,” says Mousavi, director of franchising and real estate for Kuwait City-based Gourmania International. “We saw, our owners saw, an opportunity, and now we’re ready to capitalize on it and reignite growth.”
It’s a fitting assessment from the master franchisee of Ruby Tuesday, as it operates six locations of the American casual dining restaurant brand under its Gourmania flag and has franchisees in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, coming soon, Qatar.
The Ruby Tuesday in Mahboula, Kuwait, shares real estate with another Gourmania restaurant, seafood concept Al Noukhaza.
“We always look into a concept that has sustainability, that’s not going to fade,” continues Mousavi, adding another attractive characteristic of Ruby Tuesday is “they have a big mother company to support our efforts,” with 607 restaurants in 41 states and 14 countries.
Gourmania International itself is no slouch in the support department. As the food and beverage entity of multi-billion-dollar Kuwait conglomerate Bukhamseen Group Holding Co., Gourmania was spun off from Bukhamseen’s hotel-focused National Arab Co. for Restaurant Management in late 2014 to expand its own portfolio of brands along with the reach of Ruby Tuesday.
With its more recently established franchise division, explains Mousavi, Gourmania is able to provide a range of services to its franchisees as it looks to find brands that complement its own specialty restaurant concepts created in house.
“We have the infrastructure to create brands, from the design perspective to menu engineering to staffing. We have a team in-house that’s very capable of creating a brand,” says Mousavi, giving the example of Jamawar, Gourmania’s Indian concept with two locations. “But for things that are outside of our expertise”—such as American casual dining—“that’s when we look to franchise.”
While domestically Ruby Tuesday continues to struggle with falling sales and traffic, along with a shrinking footprint that was trimmed again last summer with the announced closure of 95 units, the company’s vice president of global franchise development and operations sees “a green field for us and a window of opportunity” overseas.
Gourmania also develops specialty restaurants, such as Jamawar, its Indian concept.
“Casual dining internationally is still strong, unlike the saturated and changing market in the States moving away from that,” says James Vitrano. “Our American menu and garden bar—the garden bar is a differentiator in all markets.”
For any franchise brand with an international presence, local and regional relationships are crucial and it’s no different for Ruby Tuesday, making its partnership with Gourmania the key to success.
“They know how to position the brand in the region,” Vitrano says. “That relationship is what matters most to us,” as does Gourmania’s ability to find qualified sub-franchisees, such as v, which in May signed a development for five Ruby Tuesdays in Qatar.
The company already has experience as the exclusive franchisee for Aston Martin and MG cars in Qatar, and the group is also the owner of Aloosh Iraqi restaurant.
Alaa Subhi Abbas, CEO of Al Bairaq, says he’s “thrilled to bring Ruby Tuesday, an iconic American brand, to Qatar.”
“Over the years, we have appreciated the strong desire of residents and visitors alike for a place to gather and enjoy a meal and we’re confident the concept will resonate well,” Abbas continues in a statement.
Ruby Tuesday’s push into the Middle East and North Africa is part of the company’s move to reestablish its international presence using a regional approach, says Vitrano, as opposed to the previous strategy “where we rolled dice or threw coins and wherever they land, that’s where we’re going.” The company is also eyeing expansion in South America, East Asia and the Pacific Rim.
With Gourmania, Ruby Tuesday is poised to “really harness some momentum,” says Vitrano, taking advantage of the group’s capabilities in restaurant location acquisition, training, menu development, restaurant and kitchen design, as well as ongoing marketing assistance.
While touting his company as a leader in authentic, specialty restaurants, Gourmania benefits from its successes as much as from its struggles, Mousavi notes, saying candidly, “all our brands aren’t flourishing, some are just doing OK.”
“We have really learned that the size of locations, we have to get this right,” he explains. “We have made mistakes with going into larger sites and locations. With less seating there’s less overhead and a better bottom line,” a lesson he intends to apply in the choosing of real estate for Ruby Tuesday.
“When we want to create or build something, we put all our resources into doing it correctly. We’re perfectionists.”