James Bradbury, head of culinary at Minor Food Group speaks to Catering News about the company’s ambitious expansion plans for The Coffee Club in the GCC.
Australian cafe brand The Coffee Club has expanded rapidly in the UAE since it was first launched in 2015 at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall by Liwa Minor Food and Beverages – the joint venture company of local operator, Al Nasser Holdings, and publicly listed Thai firm, Minor Food Group.
Today, the brand has 12 outlets across Abu Dhabi and Dubai and according to chef James Bradbury, global head of culinary, Minor Food Group, the target is to open 150 Coffee Club outlets across the GCC, with Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia the next locations in line.
Bradbury also oversees The Pizza Company – which is set to grow in the region following the signing of a new franchise agreement earlier this year – Thai Express, Sizzler, Burger King, Grab Thai, and Poulet, however he believes The Coffee Club poses the biggest opportunity for expansion in the Middle East.
He comments: “The Coffee Club is closest to what’s on-trend in the Middle East market rather than the other brands in our portfolio, and it’s the most casual form of dining we have without going into the QSR format.”
“If I standardise time and temperature, it makes it very easy for the guys to cook because they don’t need to worry about these things. I’ve got the right equipment that controls that, which means I can pay unskilled cooks to make great food consistently and easily”
The Coffee Club was first launched in Melbourne in 1989 and since then, more than 360 branches have been rolled out in Thailand, China, Malaysia and the UAE. While the offer is similar to that of QSR coffee shops – with a variety of hot and cold beverages, fast service and comfortable surroundings – The Coffee Club’s USP is its all-day dining menu, which offers a wide range of breakfast, lunch and dinner options and can be tweaked to reflect regional tastes.
“We’ve adjusted about 30% of the menu to the Middle East, so we’ve added a pancake range specific to this market, which is now launching around the world,” says Bradbury. “We’ve added dishes that use local ingredients such as goats cheese, zaatar and items such as labneh eggs and Arabian scrambled eggs and we have a big vegetarian section, which we don’t have anywhere else in the world.”
With a background working in fine dining restaurants and hotels including Conrad Restaurant in Chelsea, Dish, and Food Chain by David Jones in Australia, Bradbury has developed a menu underpinned by classical techniques, but using equipment and operating platforms that ensure consistency. Bradbury explains: “The methodology and rationale behind the food is fine dining but the execution is QSR or casual dining. For example, our hollandaise sauce is a classical recipe, but we’ve adapted it to a QSR format. In the kitchen, we’ve developed a platform that allows the food to come out in a very consistent manner.”
The key to consistency is controlling time and temperature using the right equipment, and this means the brand can be easily scaled up quickly with an unskilled workforce. “If I standardise time and temperature, it makes it very easy for the guys to cook because they don’t need to worry about these things. I’ve got the right equipment that controls that, which means I can pay unskilled cooks to make great food consistently and easily. It takes away the skill of cooking, which you would need a qualified chef to do. If you take that away, all they’re doing is dressing the food.”
Another advantage of controlling all menu development at head office is that the menu items work within the system. “A normal chef loves to create, but if he created something for us he wouldn’t be able to put it into 50 outlets or 300 outlets – it needs to work on the platform and with the equipment and timings.”
In addition to developing the menu for The Coffee Club, Bradbury oversees the menus across multiple brands in multiple countries and spends around 80% of his time travelling to keep up with new trends and opportunities. He sits within the brand team in Australia, is the master franchisee in Thailand and supports the franchisee in the Middle East market.
While there are plans to introduce some new brands to Minor Food Group in the future, the focus for Bradbury and his team in the Middle East is firmly on expanding The Coffee Club. “There is lots of potential in the Middle East in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and of course Saudi Arabia and Qatar where we haven’t even started – there’s lots of room to expand.”