Interview with Andrei Merjalilov, founder of KED, chain of fast food restaurants

In the modern world, the fast food industry is one of the most developed and in demand. In fact, fast food has been around since Ancient Rome, when hot cakes were used in the marketplace as a plate for all sorts of goodies that were eaten on the go. Later these plates were transformed into pizza, which is also a classic representative of fast food.

In the modern rhythm of life, people don’t always have time to wait for a long time for their meal to be cooked, so fast food restaurants are becoming more and more popular. We met Andrei Merjalilov, founder of the KED fast food restaurant chain, and talked to him about this business, its development and plans for the future.

– What difficulties did you encounter when opening a café in Dubai? How did the public accept the project?

Before opening, we conducted a small castdev, after which we clearly realised that CIS shawarma would be popular among the public. None of the companies were focused on a mono-product, on developing a chain based on shawarma, coffee, breakfasts and so on. So now, if you ask almost any Dubai resident where to eat shawarma, many will recommend us. There have been challenges at every stage. It’s a new business in a new country. There were difficulties in mutual understanding with the previous owners of cafes, from whom we bought back trading platforms, because it is not always possible to come to an agreement with Indians and Lebanese. There were difficulties with connecting to aggregators, and there were some problems with the staff. We did not quite understand who we needed to hire. Now, a year and a half later, we already know how to select employees for the amount of money we need, and with the right amount of soft and hard skills we need in our work.

– Tell us more about the concept of the place? KED is street food or rather fast casual

Actually, Street Food and Fast Casual are two facets of the same concept. Street Food is a tasty, affordable food. Fast Casual is a service format where you come up and order at the cash desk. And, in fact, we have a certain symbiosis. Our menu includes such shawarma as shawarma with shrimp, avocado and mango, or positions with black pita bread and homemade ajika.  We pay a lot of attention to the ingredients: we bake our own pita bread, make sauces, marinate the meat and control all these stages. Accordingly, we cannot call it fast food. It is fast casual, but it is also a street food format, because this concept works.


– You have become a restaurateur, a businessman and an event organiser. How do all three components co-exist in you? What is the leading role?

Of course, the leading role is that of an entrepreneur-restaurateur, because a restaurateur is also a businessman. And I have 14 years of experience in the whole field. I’ve been in the hospitality industry for a long time. We do restaurant projects like consulting. And I am certainly businessman first and foremost. And the fact that we are organising the event is an additional tool for scaling the chain itself, for product recognition, for attracting investors, for media exposure, which first of all affects the work of the business, its recognition.

– How are things with personnel? In which country is it easier to find professionals in the restaurant business?

Actually, Dubai is a very good market for hiring staff. There is a large number of motivated staff who are not asking for fabulous money. There is a large number of people from other countries who are ready to work for decades for not super high salaries, but compared to salaries in their countries, it is a lot of money. Accordingly, if you are an adequate employer, if you provide comfortable working conditions, if you take care of your staff, pay salaries on time, communicate with your staff and, in general, create normal working conditions, you will be better than 80% of employers and people will stick to your company.

– What new products can we expect from KED this year?

We are opening quite a lot of them, we are scaling up, we have attracted investments now and we are still in the process of attracting investments. Whoever wants to come on our grid, welcome, we’ll chat, we’ll tell you, we’ll show you how we work.

On top of that, we’re collaborating with a very cool sandwich shop, Volya. Volya is a super cool content-maker, cameraman, a man who shoots in Dubai for Adidas, Reebok, who has a huge number of projects in the CIS. And this is the concept we are adopting. We will have a separate section of the menu with these sandwiches, plus we will also sell them in delivery and through aggregators. In addition, we will be holding various events together, including at KED.


 – What are your plans for the development of the KED chain of establishments: is it global expansion or strengthening your position in the local market?

In the next three years, we will be developing within the Emirates and possibly going beyond. Now we have partners and requests from people living in Bali, Cyprus, people who are scattered around the world. We’ve had requests from Argentina. And where there is a Russian-speaking population that knows about shawarma from the CIS, this is our core audience, which then grows with expats from completely different countries. Now we counted, we had guests from more than 100 countries. They tried our shawarma. The main KED recipes are from my hometown, from Krasnodar. And we will now promote Krasnodar shawarma in different parts of the world. We will look for partners in other countries, and within the Emirates we will develop ourselves. Our plans for the next five years are to open 60 KED spots throughout the Emirates.

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