For a long time now, the Egyptian cuisine has proven itself to be one of the most diverse, appetizing and flavoursome cuisines globally.
Seven years ago, Zooba took the mania for Egyptian street food and translated it into a franchise that serves high-quality local street cuisine. Today, the franchise is warming up to kick off in New York City as well. Business Forward speaks to founder Christopher Khalifa to delve deep into the expansion plans of Zooba and to know more about what is to come in the future.
Besides selling food, Zooba also sells culture. How do you sell the Egyptian culture in a different market?
We have been asking ourselves for a long time how to localize the concept in a new market while also staying true to being authentically Egyptian. It came down to what our mission is. The core of our brand is that we are offering our own take on the Egyptian street culture in an authentic manner in new markets.
We looked at our branding and our operations, the brand identity, the touch points; and made sure that we are familiar with the places we are going to.
For example, in New York, we follow a model where you go to the counter, order and then pick up your food and sit down, versus a dining model in Egypt where you sit and order. We have been adjusting some parts of the operations.
We would not brush it down and start to change the names of our items to names that are more familiar to people in other markets. We will not sell Ta’miyya and call it Falafel. We will teach people about what that exactly means.
Why did you choose New York City as the first foreign market for Zooba?
We looked at different markets and we were attracted to New York because it is the brand hub of the world. We wanted to be in a place where we are going to get the most exposure for our brand and spread our mission most powerfully. There is nowhere in the world where you can do it the same way like in New York.
At the end of it, it was the feeling that if we can make it work in New York, then we have succeeded in making the biggest impact that the brand could make anywhere in the world.
How is Zooba planning to position itself amongst the big players in a competitive market like New York City?
We are not really thinking about it like that. We have something that is very unique and it does not really exist in New York, or anywhere else in the world. We are not trying to think of the competitive landscape as much as we are staying true to our proposition, coming here, offering it and hoping people like it the way we believe they will.
What are your expansion plans ?
We are opening two more branches in Egypt this year. We are very selective when it comes to our location choices. We want to make sure we open spaces where we represent the brand and we can reach more people.
Besides the New York branch, we are opening our first location in the summer in Saudi Arabia. That is our out-of-Egypt plan for this year.
How did you know that it is the right time for Zooba to start penetrating other markets?
I think you never know. For seven years now, we have been building the brand, operational know-how, story etc. We have been testing things, making lots of mistakes, doing some things right, doing lots of things wrong and learning from them.
We are at a stage in which we are ready to take this to the next step. Many people who advised us thought it was too early, others thought it was the perfect time. So, I do not think there is ever a right time; it is a gut feeling and you go with it and you kind of hope you are right.
What is your advice for Egyptian startups that are looking to establish themselves well in Egypt and want to penetrate other markets?
My advice for other markets is not very different than my advice for Egypt. The same things that make you successful and unique in Egypt will probably make you successful in other markets.
If [business owners] are able to build the infrastructure that allows them to succeed in Egypt, they should be able to build an infrastructure anywhere. I believe that lots of people overthink it. My advice would be that if you are in that situation, and you have that type of the brand and product, do not overthink it.
People will always advise you not to because, generally speaking, people are going to be a lot more careful than you need to be to penetrate a new market and to grow.
The Going Global Series highlights how Egyptian startups and companies set foot in foreign markets. Stay tuned for more stories!