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BusinessToday meets restaurant entrepreneur Sami Daud as he prepares to launch a new eatery in Muscat

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Young Omani entrepreneur Sami Daud has a lot to be proud of. Some shrewd dealings have seen him acquire the franchises of a string of successful western eateries, which has seen his Gourmet Gulf Company go from strength to strength. For this 30-year-old, who has been living and working in Dubai since 2003, the opening of the first franchise restaurant of the London-based Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Muscat is a return to his roots.

Expected to open in early May at the Muscat City Centre in Seeb, Daud is confident that the restaurant will be a success because he has waited for the right location.

I would rather wait six months or even a year or two to open in the right location than open today in a location I don't believe in. Muscat City Centre is tried and tested, it has been around for quite some time. At the end of the day it's always easier to go into such places, which already has people."

Daud believes Gourmet Burger Kitchen will thrive because he is introducing a type of restaurant which does not yet exist in the sultanate at a price people can afford.

"I think Oman, like the rest of the region, lacks a great casual dining burger joint. It's also value for money, and I think that is very important. If you want to survive long-term you have to provide a great product at a reasonable price. We are able to do that."

Starting out with Yo! Sushi in 2003, Daud has expanded his 'casual dining' empire, acquiring the franchises for California Pizza Kitchen, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Morelli's Gelato.

Setting up Gourmet Gulf Company in Dubai in 2006, his portfolio extends to 19 outlets in three countries. Daud admits that restaurant franchises were not where he envisaged his career to take him, but his business acumen said it was a good line to get into.

Says Daud, "In some ways I stumbled upon Yo! Sushi. It was never the master plan. I have some experience in the food business with McDonald's in Oman.

But we are very opportunistic in this sense.

"If there is a business we feel would do well, more times than not we go after it, even though it may not be a business we know much about." He chose these franchises because he believes they care about quality and building the business, instead of looking for easy money.

Despite the global economic slowdown, Daud believes there is still enough interest and investment in the GCC region to open new restaurants.

"The Middle East is a very hot market right now and has been for the last few years." As an Omani businessman, Daud's decision to base his business in the UAE and build his empire there may seem a bit strange, but he has his reasons.

"I happened to be there already. I was based in Dubai for other business. That was probably the main reason. Another reason why Gourmet Gulf Company was established in the UAE was that I needed to base it at a place where it would be in a bigger market."

It was also easier to recruit staff for business there and Dubai being the hub of the UAE made it the perfect test bed to try out franchises before launching them across the rest of the region.

"You have a lot of people coming through Dubai. They may not know the brand from outside, but they will get to know it in Dubai. This is definitely the case with Yo! Sushi. I think Dubai is a very big market and also very forgiving. You get it right there and once you are happy, open up in the rest of the region.""

Return to roots
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