CEO Interview: AWJ Investment’s Manhal Naser

24 July, 2016

Dubai-founded AWJ Investments portfolio of concepts in the UAE comprises Operation Falafel, Awani, Bahria, Filicori Zecchini, Smoky Beach, Surf Bite, and the yet-to-open Lulu & Murjan — and this is only the tip of the iceberg, as Caterer Middle East found out during a recent interview with the company’s CEO and co-founder Manhal Naser.

Meeting at Bahria In Jumeirah Beach Residences last month, Naser revealed that AWJ will be adding another five units to its tally by July — bringing the total number of units it operates to 14 — while developing new concepts, some of which he reamins tight-lipped about.

One of the concepts that AWJ has already announced is Lulu & Murjan, which has been under development for the past 15 months and is set to open in December in Dubai.

Discussing this new venture, Naser says: “It’s a creative all-day dining restaurant — Levantine with an international taste — and it is going to be in Jumeirah on the beach. I am expecting this concept to be one of our most successful. Always, when I think about a concept I like to break away from the norm and come up with something totally different.”

Naser’s flagship restaurant is Operation Falafel, which he describes as the company’s “winning horse that everyone is betting on”. It serves up Arabic street food, including falafel, shawarma and mana’eesh, and the first outlet opened within The Beach retail and dining development, along Jumeirah Beach Residence’s The Walk in March 2014. Since then, four more have followed, with the latest opening just last month.

Speaking about AWJ’s primary brand, Naser says: “Operation Falafel is a scalable concept. Franchising is an important area that we are focusing on in 2016 and we paved the way for this since creating the concept; we have finished our own operational manuals so we are prepared [for franchising] and we exercise the supply chain to ensure consistently in different locations.”

While not revealing too many details about the franchising plans, he tells Caterer: “We are about to sign a strong regional deal with one of the biggest players in the market, who would represent us in the region. After this, we are going to Europe and the US; our plan is to exceed 400 units in a couple of years across the world.”

The fact that AWJ is at this stage just two years after Operation Falafel’s inception shows that the company is ”committed to the franchise”, Naser asserts.

“It is an aggressive plan and we will make every effort to make Operation Falafel a world-renowned brand. My dream is to see it everywhere I go,” he continues, adding that he wants Operation Falafel to be as ubiquitous as McDonald’s.

“This is what I am striving to do and I think we can do it because as a concept it has many elements that gel together to make it successful all around the world. hummus and falafel is popular around the world, not just in the Middle East.”