When a restaurant concept becomes a runaway success, international expansion is likely the next action item on the operator’s agenda. The natural go-to destination is the U.S., given its proximity and similar consumer base.
But the more adventurous operators are looking further afield, including the Middle East, where they’re finding pent-up demand for successful franchise concepts and willing consumers keen to try western-style concepts.
When Sweet Jesus was introduced in Toronto, the over-the-top ice-cream cone confections became an overnight sensation. Since then, the brand has experienced explosive growth in Canada, closing off 2017 with 11 units and $4.9 million in gross sales.
A key to Sweet Jesus’ success since day one has been consumer acceptance and “a very, very strong social-media presence”, says Jeff Young, chief Development officer of parent company Monarch & Misifts. Its 15,000 Instagram followers have done a lot to build awareness globally, he says. “People take a picture of the cone before they take their first taste. It’s a fantastic form of branding.”
The company’s expansion into the U.S. market is focused on airports and major malls. But it’s also looking to the Middle East, opening its first overseas unit in Dubai under the name Sweet Salvation. “We’ve also entered into a multi-unit licensing agreements in the GCC (Gulf Corporations Council), India and Bangladesh,” Young reports.
Monarch & Misfits is also exploring expansion opportunities for its La Carnita brand, albeit at a slower pace. “The cost of entry for Sweet Jesus is much lower and it’s easier to operate. Because La Carnita is a fully licensed, full-serve concept, it requires a higher investment and skill set.”
Smoke’s Poutinerie Inc.’s international ambitions are reflected in its catch phrase. “Since our first days, we’ve claimed global domination of poutine,” says Ryan Smolkin, founder and CEO. To date, the company is registered in the U.K. and Australia, as well as the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
The company has, in fact, formed dedicated divisions to spearhead its franchise growth, including Smoke’s Poutinerie U.S. Franchising Inc. and the recently created Smoke’s Poutinerie International Inc.
While U.S. expansion is moving along at a healthy pace, Smolkin maintains that the hottest market is the Middle East. “The area is beautiful, the people are friendly and the work ethic is strong. There are huge opportunities there, particularly in Qatar, which will be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Everybody should be looking into those markets.”
Over the next few years, Smolkin sees the operation having equal weighting between Canada, the U.S. and international markets. “We always thought the bulk would be in the U.S., but we now believe the international market will take us to another level.”
Written by Denise Deveau