A slice of nostalgia

Seven years ago, at the trough of the financial crisis, Lebanese entrepreneur Jihad El Eit sold his technology retail start-up to fulfil a long-time dream: to create a Beirut-style eatery in honour of his hometown. Man’oushe Street was born. Now with 30 branches in the GCC, 14 of which are in the UAE, El Eit is halfway towards fulfilling his ultimate goal, to develop a $27m brand — by next year
El Eit says Man’oushe Street is particularly fussy about food safety.

El Eit says Man’oushe Street is particularly fussy about food safety.

You come from a technology background. Why the sudden move to food and beverage, especially in 2010, during the economic crisis?

In 2009, when the economy was really down, I always said food and beverage is something that we need to venture into. I believe as an entrepreneur that starting a business is usually best when the economy is down, because everything is cheaper and people are more keen to help you. There’s more opportunity, more real estate, better salaries.

Coming from Beirut in Lebanon, living my childhood smelling zaatar and taking it in our hands, opening a restaurant was always something that I wanted to do. And looking at the industry, there was an opportunity for it. It was something that we could penetrate, especially because the market was very fragmented here. There’s not a lot of players offering what we’re offering, whether it’s on a price basis or menu basis.

How is Man’oushe Street different to the numerous competing outlets with similar concepts?

Our theme takes you back in nostalgia to the Fairuz times with the inscription that we use, the packing and the welcoming. We have the whole theme of the nostalgia of Lebanon. Other competitors are more expensive and also provide another experience. Our unique theme and competitive pricing is the reason we’ve grown to 14 locations across the UAE today. This is why we’ve gained so much market share from competition, because people have realised that we are at the same level in competition but we are cheaper.

Man’oushe Street continues to become a more popular choice among the quick service restaurants in the GCC.

Why did you launch in Dubai first and not in your hometown Beirut?

Living in Dubai gave me more room to do things right. I don’t come from the food industry and starting a business in Beirut is not easy. I always believe that the infrastructure in Dubai has helped to set up a business much more than any other city. Yes, it is more expensive, but it gives you more exposure to so many other things that are not available anywhere else, not only in Lebanon, even in other places.

You know what you’re getting yourself into in Dubai. There’s no surprises. Dubai gave me the right environment, the right landscape, the right cosmopolitan environment that I’m looking for.

What were the challenges of starting a F&B business in Dubai?

The challenge in Dubai is real estate; finding a good location is not easy, getting a prime location might be impossible. I’ve been in the business for six years — it was just four months ago that Dubai Mall gave us a location. This is a trophy because we’ve been called by Emaar to come have a location in Dubai Mall. It’s not easy. The rent is very expensive, but the opportunities are there.

I always believe in Dubai. Yes, maybe you invest but you know what you’re putting your finger into. You know that this is something that will pay back. Competition is huge, the food business is huge and the reason behind this is that everyone who wants to invest, the first thing that comes to their mind is food, because it doesn’t require a big investment, so people try it. But at the same time, it’s not easy. If you don’t have a lot of money to make you sustain yourself for a year, it might be difficult.

This is where I think the short-sightedness of going into any business in Dubai goes into this cash issue. It’s not a six-month entrepreneurial journey. It’s something that you have to look at for one or two years and make sure you have the sufficient cash to survive.

El Eit says he was hungry to make a difference with Man’oushe Street.

Have you noticed a change in consumer behaviour in the past two years, considering the economic downturn?

Last year was the best year. Because of the downturn people reacted by saving money but people came to us to save money. Experts say that every concept was down because of the downturn but it showed to us that we are bulletproof to the recession today and the reason behind this is the pricing we are offering. People want to save but they want to eat and have good food. They’re getting good service and food with us but they’re getting good pricing, too.

How did Man’oushe Street’s revenue grow in 2016?

In 2016 we crossed the AED50m [$16m] mark for revenue and, eventually, by 2018 we should have crossed the AED100m ($27.2m) mark. I want to become a AED100m brand by 2018 in terms of sales, which we are on the right track to achieve. In 2016, we had store-on-store growth of 10 percent. Our best year had 25 percent growth in 2015.

We’re also opening two or three locations every year now. We’ve been growing very fast. We opened new locations this year in Dubai Mall and JBR.

We grew to 14 locations in 2016 and my plan is to grow to 20 locations in the coming two years — our own locations, not franchises. Including our franchised stores we have 30 locations.

Our deliveries grew by 58 percent, while our dine-in grew by 12 percent.

El Eit took over a controlling stake in Man’oushe Street in 2012.

What are your expansion plans for Man’oushe Street?

Lebanon is always on the map. Today we’re expanding in the GCC, so we are available in Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt, and we just signed in Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is on the radar and it’s something very dear for me and I have to open it. I’m just waiting for the right time to see the right opportunity.

I’d also love to see the brand expand into Europe beyond the GCC and the Middle East. I’d like to see myself one day catering Man’oushe Street to people in the US and the UK.

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps?

I’m a big fan of people starting their own businesses. I never had money until I started my own business. This is how I made money. At the end of the day, people should have the guts to say, ‘I want to do it’. Say no to fear. If you have the idea, go ahead and do it.

At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is personality and skill. If you have entrepreneurship and skill, you can do it.

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