For many of us Crave is the extended living room where you are sure to bump into a friend after work, chill on the couch or indulge in their infamous chocolate fondant.
We met young entrepreneur Hazem El Dalaty, owner of TICO, Tourism Investors Company, the think tank behind Crave, one of the most adored restaurant chains in the city. He began his career as a manager for a retail supermarket chain, and at the age of 25 he took off on his own and so it all began.
How did you start out?
Me and my partner wanted to start out with a free standing unit and at that time, most restaurants in Egypt served liquor and we wanted to do something different. We wanted to have a catering firm as well as a restaurant so we began with several Ramadan tents and lounges in Marina like Skylounge and Cafeology. Well structured to grow and create a brand.
When you first opened Crave, most of the clientel in Egypt requested Shisha or liquor, was it challenging?
Yes, it was very tough. At Skylounge, we served Shisha, people used to tell us why not open Skylounge in Cairo, but we wanted to do something different.
Starting out, did you face any obstacles?
We faced almost everything. We’ve done the whole nine yards, and we opened with more budget than what we decided at first. We had to learn it the hard way as we didn’t have anyone to tell us what to do. We knew our vision very well, but we didn’t know how to apply it. You can have a good idea but to implement it the way you want or see it, is the real success. We had to maintain consistency and train people on hygiene. With good service and brand loyalty it will last. We told ourselves that we will take it with a snow ball effect. We had no experience at first but we learned on the way.
What atmosphere did you want to create?
We wanted to obtain a clean, classy look with good food. We didn’t want an artistic look or a trendy place to hang out. We wanted a clientele of executives, people who are fresh graduates till 60 years old.
So what’s with the special menu?
We "egyptianize" the food, if you sit with 5 of your friends and ask them about their food preference, I am sure one of them will tell you 'my mum’s'. Like the Chocalate Fondant, which is our signature dessert, the concept of cracking a cake to reach a soft chocolate filling attracted curiosity and we did it with our own special recipe and a much bigger portion than other restaurants. The Shrimp Konafa also had a story, when I was in Thailand, I liked it a lot. We were thinking of making a new concept, kiosk style, so we thought about ‘Kolo fel Konafa’ concept. We like creativity in food. Everyone was copying other menus and we came up with the concept of the Konafa in which we made bananas with konafa, Hot Dogs with Konafa, the Konafa concept did well. When we came to Egypt after the Thailand trip, we did Konafa with Shrimps at Crave. Every two quarters we update the menu, we are working very hard to achieve and maintain consistency.
So who brainstorms ideas at Crave, such as the interior for example?
A very big part of entrepreneurship is that there is a team that works, not only one person. Karim El Haywan was the one who helped us in design, he was a beginner at that time and now he’s making most design projects for hotels.
After the recession, do you think it's a good idea to start out in the restaurant business today?
If someone has the right partner with a goal of quality not only profit, likelihood of failure will be very small. Moreover, the team must believe in what you do and that’s very important. When we first opened Crave we didn’t do well but we did ok. Anyone who believes in a good idea, I advise them to go ahead. As for the next generation, we shouldn’t stereotype, entrepreneurship is something that is developed, you’re born with it but you want encouragement.
What are your future plans?
My target is to expand with 10 branches by 2012 and after this we could head to the region, and we also want Crave Catering to be the best in Egypt. We want to create new concepts and we have the know-how and the team to do so and I’m highlighting the word ‘team’ as my advice to any entrepreneur is to choose a perfect team. We need to get the people who believe what we want to do.