Victorian-based noodle franchise Noodle Box is enjoying the Middle Eastern appetite for its Asian street food, as its global expansion plans progress to the next stage.
The $45 million chain signed a franchise agreement with Saudi Arabian master franchisee Himmah Foods in June.
The first store, a takeaway-only drive-through store in the middle class Izdihar district, opened in Saudi Arabia in July. Two larger stores in restaurant format are planned to open in the city before Christmas.
The Saudi Arabian stores are the chain’s first steps in its plans to open 65 stores across the Middle East in the next five years.
Noodle Box network development manager Michael Standley tells SmartCompany the conditions in Saudi Arabia lend themselves to dine-in eateries or fast and efficient takeaway services.
“There are 55 degree Celsius days, it’s very hot and dry,” says Standley.
“With the Izdihar store, they pick up the food in an air-conditioned car and take it home to an air-conditioned house.”
Although the Izdihar store has been well received, Standley says it was not Noodle Box’s preference to open with a takeaway store and he expects the restaurant formats to quickly outperform the initial offering.
The restaurants will be larger than the Australian Noodle Box equivalent, seating up to 60 and featuring separate areas for males and females to dine.
Standley says Noodle Box has had to tweak its offerings to satisfy Middle Eastern tastes.
The company already had Halal certification for one of it Melbourne stores, but Standley says it had to extend that to all of its meats to enter the market.
Noodle Box hit another hurdle when it realised, after it had signed the franchise agreement, one of its products contained a tiny trace of alcohol.
“It was a minute amount. It wouldn’t have even registered in the Australian market, but it had to get totally removed and had to re-work it with the manufacturers.”
He says signing with Himmah has helped the brand fine-tune its offering to Middle Eastern tastes and has given Noodle Box the operational and infrastructural support to make the dominant play into the market.
“That was the attraction. Himmah could easily bring in and set up a new franchise,” says Standley.
The Noodle Box stores which are to open in the Middle East are currently all company owned, but Standley says Himmah will likely offer franchise opportunities further down the track.
He says while Noodle Box’s direct competitors are limited in number, the trend towards Asian food in the Middle East is gaining strength.
“We still get international inquiries for the brand weekly,” he says.
Domestically, Standley says Noodle Box plans to open five more restaurants before the end of the financial year.