One love is going international.
Raising Cane’s will open its first overseas location this summer with a restaurant in The Avenues mall in Kuwait City, Kuwait. The restaurant should be open by mid-July, said Todd Graves, Cane’s co-founder and CEO.
“We’ll see how our franchise partners operate, then we’ll go from there,” said Graves, after a Lemonade Day presentation Thursday at LSU’s E. J. Ourso College of Business.
Cane’s is teaming up with Alshaya, a Kuwaiti company that franchises brands across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Russia. Alshaya’s brands include household American companies such as Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, P.F. Chang’s and American Eagle Outfitters.
Cane’s decided to enter Kuwait because American brands — especially chicken restaurants — are popular there, Graves said. “There are also a lot of expats over there that love American concepts,” he said.
The Kuwait City Cane’s will have the same menu and operating systems as the company’s more than 210 locations across the U.S. “They didn’t want us to change what we do, which was something we were relieved about,” Graves said.
The company recently named AJ Kumaran as its chief operating officer. Kumaran was the president and chief operating officer for Gourmet Gulf, a Dubai company that operates restaurants for brands such as California Pizza Kitchen, Panda Express and Pinkberry in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Graves said it was “a coincidence” that an executive with experience with restaurants in the Middle East was hired and not a factor that led to Cane’s moving into Kuwait. “But it’s certainly an add-on for him having experience over there,” he said.
Michael Seid, managing director for MSA Worldwide, a franchise consulting firm based in West Hartford, Connecticut, said the Middle East is attractive to a lot of franchisors.
For one, there are well-capitalized franchisees in the market. The other factor is that there is a “fairly sophisticated” consumer base. “The consumers there are looking at American brands,” Seid said. “You go into a mall in Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar and you see every single brand you would find in a U.S. mall.”
The oil wealth of residents in those markets also means that consumers don’t have to make choices. “You’ll see children in a mall carrying three ice cream cones because they couldn’t decide on what flavor they wanted,” he said.
One drawback, Seid said, is the distance between America and the Middle East means that franchisors have to support the operations from thousands of miles away. And most of the labor at Middle Eastern restaurants comes from people who have been brought in from Pakistan, India or China.
Graves said he doesn’t have any set goals for the overseas restaurants.
“I feel like I do with any new market we enter; we concentrate on one restaurant at a time and make sure that it does exceptionally well,” Graves said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.