DUBAI: Walid Hajj is now considered a seasoned restaurateur, but the UAE-based Saudi made his first big break as a food entrepreneur nearly two decades ago.

Hajj, who moved to Dubai in 2007, recalls: franchise. ”

Apart from Cinnabon, Hajj’s expertise in running food service and related businesses has spawned several other popular restaurant franchises in the region, including Za’atar W Zeit, Carbel, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Five Guys. It comes from that.

About 20 years ago I think I found my first big break with the people who run the Cinnabon brand

– Waleed Hajj

100 restaurant chains, employing over 3,000 people

Hajj proved his entrepreneurial acumen when he launched ‘Cravia’ in 2001. Since then, Dubai-based franchise his operators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar he has added over 100 restaurants to his chain portfolio and employs over 3,000 people.

However, Hajj sold a majority stake in Cravia to a private equity firm in 2016, retaining his role as founder but giving up his management position in the process. He then co-founded Dubai-based restaurant group Lavoya in 2020 with Saudi Arabia-based Cloud his kitchen operator He Kitch.

What is Cloud Kitchen?

Cloud Kitchen, also known as Ghost Kitchen or Dark Kitchen, is basically a delivery-only restaurant. They provide restaurants, cafes, and other food retailers with space to prepare food without dining facilities.

“When I sold my business six years ago, I considered an early retirement from my day job. I tried it for a little over a year and hated it. It’s in my blood and I get a lot of inspiration from it,” Hajj revealed.

Hajj is currently working to expand its restaurant franchises, including global juice bar brand Joe & the Juice, US fast food chain Dave’s Hot Chicken, and 45-year-old Lebanese street food restaurant group Barbar. We are preparing However, shortly before stepping into entrepreneurship, he had a brief stint managing a brand at a conglomerate.

Stock - Cloud Kitchen

Cloud Kitchen, also known as Ghost Kitchen or Dark Kitchen, is basically a delivery-only restaurant.

Pre-launch management of a shampoo brand

“I worked for Procter & Gamble for several years after college, working with the Head and Shoulders shampoo brand in Saudi Arabia. It saved us about 50 cents, and the amount of it all added up to millions of dollars in savings over a few years, which was huge for the time,” Hajj says.

“Two lessons I have learned from these experiences are: First, every small savings counts, and second, scale is essential to business success. The potential scalability of the business idea has been a decisive factor for me to move forward with new opportunities.”

He spent two years as Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble and was also Vice President of Operations for the family-owned United Group in Saudi Arabia. Married, he has three children. He Walid received his MBA degree from Harvard Business School in the United States and King of Saudi Arabia. I’m here.

The potential scalability of the business idea has become a decisive factor for me to move forward with new opportunities.

– Waleed Hajj

Years of growth before taking on an entrepreneurial role

“My childhood was simple. My only fond memory is accompanying my father 40 years ago to a company he had just started. I believe seeing how we have built up to date is what drives me professionally,” Hajj shared.

“Just being around my father with his amazing energy and passion inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day. Even at 94, I still talk about potential business ideas and ventures. and his eyes light up.”

Hajj added that he even remembered sending telexes, then faxes, and preparing tea and coffee for his guests. I was always looking forward to it,” he added.

How do you typically fund your initial business investment?

“All of my first businesses were funded by me and my brother (who is also my partner). It was a family fundraising effort that was easier to handle, but with a whole different set of complexities and sensitivities,” Hajj said.

“In my recent business Lavoya, I partnered with my friend Fahad Al Hokair, who was eager to enter this space. we’re getting along.”


Walid Hajj: “Today, college graduates often want to start their own business – mostly to start their own business – and have no idea.”

Two challenges Hajj faced when starting F&B business

• Challenge 1: Find your first big break

Hajj first stepped into the industry almost 20 years ago and felt that one of the many challenges that stood out in his mind was finding his first ‘break’.

“For example, buying an F&B brand, finding a location, or hiring is much easier if you have a solid track record. It’s more likely that they’ll open the door for you. But opening that first door is the hardest part, so to speak,” he explained.

“You need someone who sees your potential and believes in you. It takes a lot of courage,” Hajj explained how he got his first big break with Cinnabon. “Mike Shattuck, who was running Cinnabon International at the time, believed in me and what I could achieve and gave me the right to operate in the UAE. It was truly a turning point in my career.”

For example, getting an F&B brand, finding a location, and hiring is much easier. If you have a solid track record…

– Waleed Hajj

• Challenge #2: We often face failure

Another challenge or fear that Hadge says he continues to experience in the field over the years is the “fear of failure.”

“After working hard to acquire a brand, hire a team, and build a store, the moment of truth comes when you open the door to the public and think, ‘Will they come in? . It’s really scary when 8 out of 10 restaurants fail (actual stats). The thought that it can fail after such an effort can discourage you from embarking on a venture in the first place,” he added.

“On the other hand, success makes you want to take more risks, learn how to overcome your fears, and enjoy the process. I am on this journey now with the same level of excitement as when I was there. Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to success, and overcoming that fear is what separates entrepreneurs from dreamers. I strongly believe that there is.”

Major expenses in starting a restaurant concept in the United Arab Emirates

Cereal restaurateurs explained how the economics of restaurants most often vary wildly.

“Generally, the largest cost components are occupancy costs (rent) and labor costs. Together, they account for about half of the cost. Recently, another cost component added to the equation is shipping costs. This distorted the financial model of our restaurant operations and forced us to adjust other cost factors to compensate for this additional cost,” he explained.

stock entrepreneur business

Waleed Hajj: “Finding what you love [when on an entrepreneurial pursuit] It can only be obtained by exposing oneself to different things and different environments. ”

2 tips for budding entrepreneurs starting a business

• Tip #1: “Don’t start a business just because you have to.”

Many people want to start a business and be their own boss, but jumping in without the necessary planning is often considered a mistake, and Hajj agrees.

“I think the road leads to its own failure. It should be reversed,” he said. “Once I have an idea, or come upon an idea, I think of an entrepreneurial path to take it forward.

“For that reason, I am a big fan of young individuals resisting peer pressure to be their own boss. It may be an archaic way of looking at it, but I think it’s more sustainable and realistic, especially given its rapid rise to fame through social and other media.”

I strongly believe that fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to success, and overcoming that fear is what separates entrepreneurs from dreamers.

– Waleed Hajj

• Tip #2: “Choose a field, scope, or sector that drives you.”

Hajj added that staying motivated is very important if you are an entrepreneur.

“Pick something or a sector that drives you! Waking up every morning thinking you love what you do is the best feeling in the world and is sustainable in whatever you do.” And it’s going to be successful and long-term,” he advised.

“You have to expose yourself to different things and different environments to find what you love. plug.”

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