DUBAI // Gourmet Gulf, the group behind Yo! Sushi and Morelli's Gelato franchises in the region, plans to spend US$80 million (Dh293.8m) to increase its number of restaurants in the GCC to 100 from 20 within four years. The first 17 restaurants are expected to open by the end of the year, including the Dubai-based company's first two in India.
"It is a business that has taken off very well," said Sami Daud, the chief executive of Gourmet Gulf. "The brands that we have [already have] captured a certain segment of the market in casual dining, those looking for value for money. It is growing at a very fast pace." This year, Gourmet Gulf plans to open about seven restaurants in Saudi Arabia, five in the UAE, one each in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, and two in India. It also plans to open restaurants in Lebanon and Egypt next year, followed by outlets in Jordan in 2012, Mr Daud said. Gourmet Gulf is still looking to sign on new brands and will probably take on another restaurant franchise by the end of the month, he said.
Retailers in the UAE struggled last year as consumers cut back on unnecessary spending after the economic downturn reached the region at the end of 2008. Shoppers curbed their spending when it came to food as well, with many choosing to cook at home or go to fast-food restaurants instead of paying for fine dining. Gourmet Gulf was also hit by the downturn as sales at outlets that were open for more than a year dipped by 4.5 per cent for the year, as compared with 2008.
"There is no doubt some of our locations took a hit while some of them fared quite well," Mr Daud said. "In the first half of 2009 it was difficult, but in the second half we really did see a pickup across most of our units, and momentum has continued into this year." Last month, sales at restaurants that have been open for more than a year were up by 24 per cent, he said. "We are up across the board in every single unit over 2009. We had our best month ever in January."
In 2006, when Gourmet Gulf was formed, it planned to reach 100 outlets by 2011, but this was scaled back after the launch because it was too aggressive at the time, Mr Daud said. "It wouldn't have been the right locations, and you see this mistake being made by a lot of people when they expand too fast too soon, and in the process they compromise location and quality food," he said. "Today we are much better positioned."