CAIRO: Hussein Mahmoud is a foodie with a keen business eye. This entrepreneur has already challenged McDonalds, broken ground in Egypt’s healthy living food market, and now he’s decided to battle chicken giant KFC.
It took a lot for Mahmoud, CEO of Sage Foods Inc., to jump the rails of a conventional career. In 2002, he graduated from the American University with a degree in industrial chemistry. It was only when he entered the family paint business that he decided he wanted a change.
In January 2006, he opened Route 66 in Maadi. The restaurant was a success, and investors immediately began clamoring for a piece of the action.
He sold a stake in the business only three months after opening, and divested the whole investment in August 2007.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Mahmoud founded Sage Foods Inc. in October 2007, determined to be a pioneer in the food industry. But his business model came with a catch: there would be no storefront and no restaurant. The shopping would be virtual and the waiters deliverymen.
He used the success of Route 66 to persuade a handful of investors to finance privately a project he told them would be “high risk, high glory.
Under Sage, Mahmoud decided to launch a handful of different brands. The Burger Kitchen was the first.
Taking advantage of his expertise in burgers, Mahmoud launched his burger delivery service with 12 employees, a website, and an aggressive advertising campaign.
The idea was to sell burgers at fast food prices with upscale quality.
“You get expensive items, he said, discussing how Sage keeps quality high. “You do it on your premises, under your supervision, so it’s not processed outside. We don’t get any ready-made products. We do everything in-house.
The business has blossomed (especially in sales of the mushroom burger, which, he says, is the most popular), with sales in the first eight months of this year four times over 10 months of sales in 2008.
In July 2008, Mahmoud launched Vital, the healthy face of Sage Foods. Offering primarily soups and salads, Vital markets itself as a fresh dining option, using the freshest ingredients.
“The concept behind it was the well-being, fresh and healthy, he said.
He also admitted that Vital has allowed Sage to sell itself as a health-conscious brand.
Vital, too, is only available by order and delivery.
On October 1 of this year, Mahmoud will launch his third Sage brand, one he hopes will continue to broaden the Sage’s scope. Tender Bites Chicken will offer a number of chicken options, including tenders and sandwiches. Whereas the burger market was crowded, said Mahmoud, the chicken market is slimmer, and he sees his primary competition as KFC.
Mahmoud said he enjoys maintaining separate brands, and the company is only now starting a campaign to promote the Sage name, as the company that oversees them all.
“This was our dream when we started. Our concept is to make multi-brands, he explained. “Since it’s virtual, why not do it very independent and yet in the end, consolidate through Sage.
But what’s so fascinating about Sage Foods isn’t all its eclectic offerings of foods, it’s in the myriad of creative ways that its CEO has already or is looking to expand.
He’s already pushed so that much of Cairo is under the company’s delivery umbrella.
This year, Mahmoud took the operation north, expanding to 150 employees and offering clients to order from the Burger Kitchen as they reclined on or around the sands of Diplomat Beach.
The business in the North Coast, which is only open seasonally, he hopes will drive business back in Cairo, as vacationers from their breaks.
He also plans to kick off operations in Alexandria sometime after New Years.
The company is also in the midst of launching a delivery school to train delivery people, a service, he says, that is wanting in Cairo. He plans to open the school to all businesses.
Asked where he wants to be in five years, Mahmoud doesn’t hesitate. His primary goal is to have six solid brands running in Egypt.
But his ambitions don’t stop at the borders. Mahmoud says he’s been approached by a number of other Arab countries to do business abroad. For the moment, he seems focused on solidifying his gains in the Cairo market. But there’s no reason to think that the business won’t sometime take the leap abroad.