Coffee & Controversy
Fighting rumours of Ikhwan-affiliation while serving up some of the best cups of coffee in Egypt is tough work, as Café Suprême’s Khaled Al Kawass recently found out.
This week we caught up with man-about-town and owner of the Café Suprême franchise in Egypt, Khaled Al Kawass. Launching his business straight out of university, Khaled has quickly made a name for himself and for the Canadian coffee shop he’s managed to spread across Egypt. With 5 branches already in operation and 5 more to come, Café Suprême has become one of CairoScene’s favourite hang-outs but it hasn’t been without its obstacles. Recently, Café Suprême has been the target of rumours suggesting that it is a Muslim Brotherhood-run establishment, with many calling to boycott the chain. “Absolutely not true,” says Al Kawass. We sit down with the brains behind our favourite cup of coffee to clear up any misconceptions and we talk Mrs. Mubarak, daddy’s money and Will Smith…
Tell us about Café Suprême’s arrival in Egypt.
It’s been 5 years since I got the franchise for Café Suprême from Canada.. Our first branch was at CityStars and then a year later we opened in Carrefour Maadi and then we opened up in Carrefour Alexandria, then Korba and then we started sub-franchising. Luckily, the head office is very flexible when it comes to localising franchises so we were able to tailor the menu to suit Egyptian tastes.
What were you up to before Café Suprême?
I was a student before that; it was my first business venture. My father is my business partner and we sent offers to lots of companies we were interested in but Café Suprême seemed to work the best. It was already popular in the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and we knew we could easily replicate that model in Egypt.
Don’t you think the market for cafes here was already saturated?
Yes, it was a risk but I a took a course in restaurant operation and management at NYU to understand everything a bit better and it’s worked out!
What were your biggest challenges in opening up?
The government. The Korba branch was actually the first one we acquired but the last to open because of Mrs. Mubarak. She didn’t want cafes and other retail businesses operating in that area so getting the licenses we needed was impossible. As soon as the revolution happened we were able to open up and it was very successful. We’d been paying rent on that location for 5 years without it even opening so it was about time!
A lot of times entrepreneurs here start their own business with their family’s money and there’s an instant underestimation of them for taking feloos papy. What’s your response to these people?
It’s okay to take feloos papy but you can either lose daddy’s money or you can be successful. With me, that wasn’t the case as we are partners. And if papy is a businessman himself, then it’s added value. With my father’s help we’ve quickly moved on from buying a franchise to selling the franchise ourselves. We’ve got 5 new branches opening in the next 5 months through this sub-franchising model.
Down the road from the CairoScene office, there’s a night club called El Regina: “The best Khaleeji club in Egypt”. Would you open up a Khaleeji café in Egypt?
I would not open anything to do with the word Khaleeji! That’s not exactly the crowd we cater to…
What have you learned since you got your first franchise that you didn’t know when you started?
To never give up.
How is the political situation affecting your business now?
It’s very bad. Especially because the protests are very close to our Korba branch.
How many people does Café Suprême employ in Egypt?
About 350 people
How do you manage that many staff? What is the secret?
I’m not really bossy. They know me well and I know everybody.
What was the strangest thing that’s happened in Café Suprême?
Recently, a campaign started on Twitter claiming that we are affiliated the Muslim Brotherhood! I don’t know how this rumour started but it’s definitely not true.
What is the best way to counter something like that?
Maybe a picture of me from CairoZoom at Tamarai or something!
Done. How Ikhwan are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
What advice would you give anyone who is trying to get a franchise from abroad?
To have enough money to cover the fixed costs of the first year and a half. The franchise and the construction of a store usually it costs about 1 to 1.8 million LE. You need about 1 million more to pay rent and salaries for one year without making any profit. You need to be able to survive that first year, and if you do, you’re likely to succeed in the long-run.
What’s the one thing about running your own business that causes the most pressure?
Everything. It’s a very stressful job. We have like 2000 customers per day giving us feedback via comment cards. We read every single one and call back anyone that has a complaint.
What is the best comment you’ve received about Café Suprême?
A girl wrote I
Have you ever used your role as the owner of Café Suprême to pick up girls? Like ,”Hey, do you want to grab a coffee…”
Haha of course not, I already have a bad enough reputation!
Would you consider another franchise ?
Me and my brother Tarek already started Sushi Bay. It’s inside the Korba branch of Café Suprême and it’s doing very well. We’re opening a second Sushi Bay in Cairo Festival City which will open up in around 2 months which Tarek will be taking care of.
What was your dream when you were younger?
My dream was actually to be an actor! I pursued it for a while but I needed a larger salary…
Okay, Steven Spielberg walks into your café and says he will make you a star and will buy out Café Supreme for 2.5 billion Dollars but you have to join the Ikhwan. What would you do?
It’s 2.5 billion Dollars…
Who would play you in a movie about Café Suprême?
What can we look forward to from Café Suprême?
We actually just recorded a Café Suprême song! No one’s heard it yet, so CairoScene has the exclusive:
What’s happening for Christmas at Café Suprême?
We’re putting up massive decorations in every branch to pove we are NOT Ikhwan, haha! Christmas trees, Christmas songs, Christmas cookies…
How do you feel about Cafe Mex opening up a block away from your Korba branch?
I’m excited about it, it’s healthy competition!