After 24 months of planning, Dubai’s Freedom Pizza is ready to begin expanding with its first franchised store in Sharjah, reveals founder Ian Ohan.
Why did you set up Freedom Pizza?
Having been in the UAE for 20 years, I learned very early on that pizza and delivery service was a painful experience at best. Pizzas were unhealthy and of poor quality and this combined with lousy service and long delivery times, made me stop eating pizza all together. The idea of creating a good-for-you, super-fast and convenient pizza delivery company in the UAE seemed right. Having just sold my previous business, I quickly set my sights on doing just that. Now we have nine locations including three VOX Cinema locations with many more on the way.
What experience did you draw on when you launched the business?
Working for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts in Toronto, Canada, taught me how to value people, how to treat customers and the importance of integrity in building a brand. I also learned a great deal about finance and international business working with the hospitality and investment practices at KPMG and Arthur Andersen in North America and the Middle East. However, my real entrepreneurial journey began when I joined two partners and established a real estate and hospitality consulting / investment business in the GCC, which we sold to Jones Lang LaSalle in 2006.
What sets Freedom Pizza apart from other pizza chains in the Middle East?
All ingredients we use are of premium quality. We source the produce for our salads and pizzas from the Freedom Greenheart Organic Garden based in the UAE, so our products go from vine to pie in 24-hours. Our multi-grain crust aids slow digestion, while the cheese we use is low-fat, all-natural and sourced from dairy farms in the UK. Our chicken tenders and wings are responsibly farmed, with no added hormones, from premium brand, M&J Chicken in Australia. We work closely with quality local suppliers like Skinny Genie, who supply our gluten-free crusts and gluten-free brownies, Coco Yogo, who provide us with vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free desserts, and Savarin, who supply our premium desserts.
How do you ensure your delivery platform competes with the third-parties?
Our proprietary Freedom Connect ordering and back-end system is quite simply, better. We focus on great user experiences, simple, cool and appealing design, with useful and relevant features and we are evolving our technology daily. Our sister company, Big Dwarf, is dedicated to developing our platform. With myself as CEO of both companies, we are able to innovate and iterate in real time. Look for our new loyalty game, lunch club and other cool features, coming soon.
How is the company culture for team members at Freedom Pizza?
We treat our employees as business partners and we offer careers, not jobs, and attract those that know the difference. Most of our management team and many of our operations support team members began their careers with us as drivers or pizza makers. Store managers are given full accountability for the performance of their stores and are taught everything about the business, including financials. Our greatest opportunity is the continued development of our team members, particularly as they become more senior.
What markets are you targeting for global expansion?
In addition to continued expansion in the region, there will be a combination of corporate owned and select franchised stores and we are considering a number of international markets. Our immediate priority is entering the UK, so watch this space.
Tell us about your first franchised store, due to open this year?
We have been preparing for franchising for the past 24 months and we are ready. We have implemented cloud-based operational, human resources and training platforms to ensure consistency and visibility. We recently signed a franchise deal for a store in Sharjah and this will be our first franchised location. We are very careful in selecting capable franchisees who get the Freedom ethos, service and work ethic. Franchisees are true business partners and we take the responsibility very seriously. We are acutely conscious that we only have one brand and one reputation, and we will be judged by the company we keep.
What is your strategy for the future success of Freedom Pizza?
We must grow and continue to learn and innovate. We are ready for accelerated and healthy growth so we must keep building our base wider and deeper. We must also honour and not forget what has gotten us to where we are today. We are free.