CAIRO/NORTH COAST: Trendy dining has slowly crept into the summer routine that was mainly dominated by meals on-the-go and restaurants that are dodgy at best.
The increasing influx of beachgoers to popular resorts and hangout spots on the North Coast made the idea of opening popular Cairo restaurants and cafes in this summer getaway appealing for some and necessary for others.
The summer high season, which starts mid-July and is primarily concentrated in August, is characterized by vacationers that are more than willing to spend money, and lots of it.
“The 50 days [that make the summer season] could generate almost the same revenue as the whole year in Cairo, says Omar Fathy, chairman and CEO of Divine Worx, the operator of a restaurant chain led by Makani.
The purchasing power in one day in the North Coast, Fathy explains, is five or six times that of a day in Cairo.
If that’s not appealing enough for some investors, the necessity of being where other competitors are seals the deal, even if it means incurring losses.
Tamer El Leithy, co-owner of Mori Sushi, which opened a branch on the North Coast this summer, says that being where other competitors are and establishing grounds for brand recognition are partly why he opened this branch.
In addition, the Cairo venues usually witness a drop in business during North Coast high season. “It’s a very low season in Cairo, said El Leithy.
Fathy says the overall drop in the season is 30 percent. On some days the drop reaches 50 percent.
Thus opening a branch in the North Coast is not just an additional source of revenue, but in a way compensates the drop in the Cairo branches.
Luckily, the North Coast turned out to be rewarding for both El Leithy and Fathy. But as many people who ventured in the business would say, this can never be a one-year project. It requires years, or consecutive summers, to be truly rewarding.
Mohamed Hazem, owner of a restaurant in Sidi Krir resort and Les Papillon pastry shop in Cairo, said the first year saw less profit than the second.
The start up costs and equipment chip away from the first year’s revenues.
In the second year, after all preparations are made and the dining venue is recognized within the North Coast community, efforts can be channeled to marketing and improving operations, says Fathy.
“This kind of project requires strong financial backing, he added.
Omar Lotfy, owner of a popular Cairo restaurant, can’t agree more. He, however, didn’t give positive feedback on his experience with North Coast dining.
Lofty was a partner in last year’s top night spots in Marina. He was responsible for the management, catering and service.
“It’s a headache, he says.
The biggest problem he faced was labor. He had to find about 150 workers (from waiters to cooks) and train them so they could operate the place for just one month. He said those who are available for a one-month job have no experience, are unemployed and hence aren’t serious about their jobs.
“By the time they get trained, the season is over, Lofty said, explaining the effort that goes in vain.
Not to mention the accommodation costs and extra compensation for the workers, since they are working away from home, he noted.
Lotfy had more than one reason – including the high cost of operations and the need to sustain a business for three consecutive years at least – that deterred him from repeating the experience this summer.
For others, the labor, although troublesome, wasn’t an obstacle.
“It’s like another branch, El Leithy said referring to distribution of resources based on a structured system.
Fathy hires more staff but their work is always supervised by their permanent counterparts.
Hazem, however, has hired chefs specialized in Syrian and Egyptian savories for the North Coast restaurant; his Cairo shop offers high end pastries.
But for Lotfy, the future poses a risk in this type of business that requires sustainability. The Marina resort, which was the main attraction on the Coast, is beginning to lose its appeal. Besides the new enforced limitation on entrance that decreased the influx of visitors, more and more people are heading west towards new resorts in Sidi Abdel Rahman, he explained.
“It’s spreading out, Lofty said in reference to the crowds’ move from Marina to other resorts.
Both Fathy and El Leithy said they plan to open branches at these new summertime hotspots.
El Leithy who already provides catering to Marina and Hacienda from the Diplomats (Diplo) resort where he is based, will open another branch in Hacienda next Summer.
Fathy is currently studying a number of options for next season.
This, however, doesn’t constitute a problem for Hazem. His business depends on the resort residents in addition to a small factory he set up to supply pastries to different North Coast resorts.
Except for Lofty, when all were asked about the hassles of setting up a business that only operates for two months every year, they instantly replied, “it’s definitely worth it.