The charm of Charley's

After stumbling across Charley’s Grilled Subs as a student in the US, Mohammed Al Madani has successfully launched the brand in the Middle East, and plans to open 25 outlets by 2010

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By  Laura Barnes Published  April 1, 2006

|~|charleys2.jpg|~|Al Madani opened his first Charley's Grilled Subs late last year|~|Mohammed Al Madani had always wanted to launch a food chain. While studying in the US he was introduced to Charley’s Grilled Subs, and since then he has not been able to get Charley’s out of his head. Although Al Madani, chairman of Al Madani group of companies, has his background in the retail market — launching with Levis, Gas and Dockers in the region — he later decided to venture into the food market. Visiting the US on a regular basis, Al Madani first began talks to get the franchise for Charley’s Grilled Subs back in 2001; however, he put the talks on hold after 9/11 and continued researching the market. In 2004, he signed an agreement for the franchise of Charley’s Grilled Subs in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, and opened the first outlet in Mall of the Emirates in late 2005. “Signing the deal was not easy. It was the first venture into this market for the group so we had to really research the industry. However, we managed to convince Charley’s that we were serious. We looked at other franchises, how they operated, how many stores they had and their turnover,” comments Al Madani. “I think what really convinced Charley’s that we were serious was that before we signed the contract with them I had already secured a space at Mall of the Emirates. They realised then just how serious I really was about the project,” he adds. Although there are a number of casual and fast food outlets in the region, like Subway, KFC and McDonald’s, Al Madani says that what separates Charley’s from the others is that it offers a healthy alternative, with all of the sandwiches made to order and grilled. Charley’s Grilled Subs also boasts that all of the meat it uses comes from South America and is processed locally. The vegetables, which are purchased locally, are also prepared daily and any excess is thrown out at the end of each day. “Charley’s Grilled Subs is about offering a healthy and fresh option. Nothing is microwaved, it is all fresh and made to order,” comments Al Madani. With one outlet in Mall of the Emirates and a stand-alone restaurant in Al Diyafah Street, Dubai, Charley’s will also be opening in Ibn Battuta Mall next month. However, this outlet will have a different concept to the others, with an assembly line in front of the customer, so the diner can see the food being prepared. “The idea of an assembly line is very typical of Charley’s. However, we were unable to do this before as we did not have the space,” says Al Madani.||**|||~||~||~|With an expansion plan to roll out 25 stores in five years, Al Madani Group is on track to achieve its target, and has plans to open more outlets by the end of the year, including another outlet in Dubai, Sharjah, Qatar, Seef Mall in Bahrain and, by 2007, City Centre Muscat. All these outlets have already been confirmed, so it is likely that 2007 will see the announcement of more Charley’s Grilled Subs in the region. Al Madani has to ensure that the outlets maintain a certain consistency, and before any of the outlets opened, key members of his team underwent training in the US to ensure the outlets are run the Charley’s way. “A lot of time was spent undergoing and gaining product knowledge and training on how to make a Charley’s sub,” says Al Madani. “Once the general manager returned to Dubai he held classes and on site training for the staff. Every staff member has been taught each step in the process, whether that is taking the orders, prepping the food or grilling the sub. Whatever it is, they all know how to do it, so after three months they are competent in all stages of the process,” says Al Madani. As a new company, Charley’s has had to try and attract diners away from other well-known fast food outlets, and in an already saturated market it was not an easy task. But Al Madani says that part of creating awareness for diners is by offering samplers, bite sized portions of its grilled subs. “People know what a Big Mac tastes like, or what a chicken burger tastes like, they don’t necessarily know what a Charley’s Grilled Sub tastes like. So it was important for us to let people try the food. We have had a lot of people purchase meals after tasting our samplers so it is working,” comments Al Madani. As part of its pledge to offer diners something different, Charley’s Grilled Subs offers a range of hot subs including Philly cheese steak, Philly veggies and chicken buffalo. It also offers gourmet fries, with a number of toppings, and fresh lemonade. However, aware that people are becoming more health conscious, the outlets also offer low carb meals, vegetarian subs and salads. Charley’s Grilled Subs is also eager to capture the office and home market, so both of its stores offer a home delivery service, stretching from old Dubai and Jumeirah, to Sheikh Zayed Road and the Greens. This service has proved popular with students and office workers, with the stores rush hour stretching over the lunch period. “We have a broad client base. It seems to have taken off with people of all ages and across all demographics, as it is an inexpensive but healthy and relatively quick option. We will also be offering a dessert range from next month, so we are positive that we can only grow,” Al Madani adds enthusiastically.||**||

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