Manhal Naser, CEO of Operation: Falafel, started small – and still reinvented the local food industry.
One word: audacious. That’s all it takes to describe the geniuses behind Operation: Falafel. In a very short span of time, the brand hasn’t just created its own space in an overcrowded market, but has thwarted its competition. So, when Manhal Naser opens up about his journey, it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring.
“Dubai is a dynamic market, and I have watched it develop over the years. Middle Eastern food can be found all over the world – different recipes, different ingredients and different influences. My partner and I started to notice the morphing of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine to include modern ingredient combinations. For us, hummus, falafel, shawarma and so on is food that we grew up on. We valued the authenticity of this cuisine and noticed that there was no established brand in the market that offered fresh, authentic, Middle Eastern street food. Out of the desire to fill this gap, the Operation: Falafel concept was born. The “Operation:” stood for our mission to bring back the authenticity of the traditional foods that we grew up on,” he shares.
It is this rare combination of market knowledge and business acumen that is the driving factor behind Operation: Falafel’s success. Manhal has spent a considerable amount of time understanding the market landscape: “There is a lot of opportunity in the Middle East. The consumer continues to evolve and it’s important for a business to know what its unique selling points are and to understand its consumer. Growing a business in this region can be very rewarding if you know when and where to launch with the right product.”
Too hot to handle?
Is fierce competition in the face of challenging market dynamics causing Operation: Falafel to tweak its recipe for success? Manhal reckons he has a fool-proof strategy: “The most important element of standing out in a competitive market is knowing your consumer. We have been very deliberate in developing concepts that are specific to certain niches. Operation: Falafel is all about making street food available to everyone. The food is fresh, made when you order, authentic and affordable. We pride ourselves on the value for money. But for us, it’s also very important to connect with our customers. We do this through social media and online outlets, and we like to keep it light and fun. We are a fun, hip brand, and we love that all of our customers feel like they can relate to us. The relationship goes beyond the food. Differentiation is key.”
While the success of Operation: Falafel is quite apparent, what are some of the biggest hurdles it faces? How does a brand, growing this rapidly, sustain its quality? “Of course, challenges are plenty. One of our biggest challenges has been figuring out how to build full-fledged departments in a short period of time, in order to cope with the targeted objectives of the company. We recruited 700 staff in less than two years, whilst at the same time working on growing the business and trying to run it. You cannot stop what you are doing for one moment, it’s like driving a car and trying to change the tyres at the same time.”
Although this fast expansion has proved to be challenging, it is this very scalability that is underwriting Manhal’s dream of becoming the next big thing in the realm of street food. The company has gone from start-up to successful enterprise in merely four years. The brand has defied all odds to now compete with bigger players at the regional and international levels.
As is the case with any entrepreneur, Manhal’s ambitious are sky high. He has no intention of slowing down. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We have been fortunate enough to see rapid market acceptance of Operation: Falafel, both nationally and internationally. We have people coming to us from all over the world who are interested in taking the brand to their countries. Our vision is to see Operation: Falafel flourish internationally in the MENA region, Europe, Asia and the Americas, as we expand our strategic partnerships through franchising. As of now, confirmed openings include Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Ajman – UAE, Doha – Qatar, Riyadh and Dammam – KSA, Muscat – Oman and Washington, DC – USA,” he explains.
He adds: “We have several mandates for different brands and departments. It goes without saying that the well-studied expansions will never stop across all our brands to meet the demand regionally and globally. Also, we are always looking for new technologies and system upgrades that can expedite and facilitate our growth. Meeting investors’ objectives and expectations are very essential to our objectives, and we always look forward to meeting them. Apps are a big conversation right now and we are always looking for new opportunities to enhance existing strategies. There are definitely some things in the works.”