Charles Boghos, CEO and founder of Chez Charles discusses the premium catering company’s expansion to Abu Dhabi and its first restaurant opening.
Charles Boghos began his career in marketing and business, confessing “I had nothing to do with F&B”. A food and wine enthusiast, however, Boghos would source unique, high quality European ingredients for personal use and dinner parties and following several complements from his guests, he decided to explore his passion further. In 2012, Boghos resigned from his job and launched Chez Charles.
His marketing expertise did not go to waste, however. In fact, marketing has been a key aspect of the successful positioning of Chez Charles as a premium catering company. “It’s very important,” Boghos tells Catering News during an interview at the company’s Business Bay facility in Dubai. “Marketing is much broader than visuals and designs. It includes product development, distribution, pricing, positioning – the whole strategic plan.”
“Demand is coming in non-stop, which is great. When you build your credibility in the market everyone that wants to do something comes to you naturally”
However, for a business to be successful, the product must follow through on the marketing message, says Boghos, and for Chez Charles, this message is quality.
“You have to build substance behind your claims and positioning, which is what we do. We’ve played a lot on quality, which is our main motto across the board. It starts with the quality of ingredients, the people, the skills we have on board.”
Chez Charles began as an online gourmet store, a website where customers could buy high quality ingredients and have them delivered the following day. This was followed with a private chef offering, then barbeques and lamb spit roasts, which became so popular that the company couldn’t meet demand. September 2015 marked an important milestone therefore, with the opening of Chez Charles’ central kitchen, warehouse and offices in Business Bay.
“This is when we became a fully-fledged catering company,” comments Boghos, explaining that Chez Charles now caters for up to 1,000 people, with events ranging from canapé and cocktail parties to plated gastronomy dinners, corporate events and weddings. “We can do everything and anything, as long as it doesn’t compromise the quality,” he says.
“We’d rather stay where we are; we have no plans to be good for everyone and will remain targeted at a premium market. We are a catering company and don’t want to become an event company that does food”
Boghos isn’t a chef himself, but rather “the pickiest and most detail-oriented customer”. His team of 40 comprises 15 chefs, two of whom – Sylvain Gohier and Jérémy Degras – come from Le Quartier Gourmand, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Burgundy, France.
Explaining how he convinced the chefs to join the Dubai-based catering company, Boghos says: “When you share your story with passion, and when you explain to people that share the same passion, and you’re on the same frequency and have the same aim in life then it’s easy to join forces – and that’s what happened. I think we’re the only catering company that has two Michelin-starred chefs on board.”
Boghos and the chefs brainstorm the menus together, but Sylvain and Jérémy have free rein to develop them further. “We create the spirit of the menu and then it’s their call to change items, develop items – they have my full trust.”
The chefs share Boghos’ passion for quality, with ingredients sourced from Europe – and France in particular – depending on what’s in season and what’s available. “We know people and work very closely with local suppliers we consider business partners, they get things for us,” says Boghos, highlighting Fernando Pensato olive oil among his specially selected premium ingredients – “We know the estate and production; it’s an oil that sits on most Michelin-starred tables of France”.
Some of the better-known suppliers on the books are Promar Trading and Wet Fish, while beef is of the finest quality Black Angus or Wagyu from Australia. “We don’t use lower grades; it’s all about quality, quality, quality,” he reiterates.
Demand is growing on the back of Chez Charles’ reputation for quality, and the company had the most successful start of a season yet in the third quarter of 2016, reveals Boghos. “Demand is coming in non-stop, which is great. When you build your credibility in the market everyone that wants to do something comes to you, naturally.”
“Going to Abu Dhabi means time spent on the road and restrictions on the number of events you can take on so it’s a compromise but then you just have to make a judgement on the right events and the right number”
And while Chez Charles has nine trucks and a warehouse in Ras Al Khor, which can be utilised for large events, Boghos is keen to maintain the company’s premium status by limiting the size and scope of its services.
Boghos explains: “For events of 4,000 – 6,000 people, you need different logistics and capabilities. We can work it out if we have enough lead-in time but this type of event is usually not very high quality compared to what we do. We’d rather stay where we are; we have no plans to be good for everyone and will remain targeted at a premium market. We are a catering company and don’t want to become an event company that does food,” he says.
Instead, Boghos’ strategy for expansion is moving into new markets and sectors while maintaining his focus entirely on a high-quality food and beverage offer. Having completed the required paperwork, the team is now ready to cater to the Abu Dhabi market, which opens doors to a number of new opportunities, but equally comes with logistical and staffing challenges.
“Going to Abu Dhabi means time spent on the road and restrictions on the number of events you can take on, so it’s a compromise, but then you just have to make a judgement on the right events and the right number. We juggle and plan in a way that doesn’t impact any other events we do and we’re currently recruiting for that,” says Boghos, revealing that down the line, when required, a catering facility will open in the capital.
Another major project in the pipeline – and one that will significantly diversify the company’s business – is the opening of a 500m2 180-seat restaurant located in Dubai Design District (D3). Scheduled to launch in February, the contemporary French brasserie will be “human, normal and approachable” says Boghos. “It’s a place you feel good, a place where you can go every week because you’re hungry and don’t feel like cooking at home.”
The pricing strategy for the venue has been “well studied” and Boghos looks forward to offering an affordable menu by utilising resources across the company’s verticals. “We won’t have a premium pricing strategy because of our capabilities between catering and the restaurant, our purchasing power and ability to plan ingredients. People are tired of spending AED 700 or 800 when they go out. With all due respect to these restaurants, very few have high quality ingredients; they just make you pay,” he says. And explaining why he decided to move into the realm of restaurants, he admits “it was the normal expansion of the brand itself”.
Going forward, the restaurant element will be just as important as the catering division, with more outlets to open both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “It will go hand-in-hand,” says Boghos. “It’s a separate operation, but one complements the other. Our pipeline is full in the next three years. We have a lot to come both in terms of catering and restaurants.”