Five Minutes With… Abdulkarim Hannawi, CEO, Abela & Co

Abela is looking to expand its F&B chains Sandella’s Flatbread Café and Bean There across the UAE and Qatar.



How was 2014 for Abela & Co and how has the start of 2015 been so far?

2014 witnessed steady growth for Abela & Co, in particular within Dubai. However, we also saw an uptick in growth both within Abu Dhabi and Egypt, which are relatively new markets for us. We also saw a remarkable increase in business for our retail sector, with strong customer demand pushing up revenues.

2015 has got off to a very good start, with five new contracts already acquired within the first eight weeks of the year and the pipeline looks very strong, well ahead of plan. Furthermore, we commissioned our new kitchen in Fujairah on March 1 2015, and we are excited about the prospect within this emerging city.

Which are the segments within your company that are showing the strongest growth?

Our corporate and retail sectors are seeing the strongest growth and we expect this to continue in the long term.

What are the biggest challenges that you currently face?

The main challenge that we face has to do with recruiting and retaining employees; it becomes harder every day. To survive in our business, we must remain creative and innovative, so encouraging and maintaining a culture of creativity among our team is certainly a priority for us.

Are you looking at launching any new services/brands or expanding operations this year?

This year, we will be looking at expanding our US franchise business, Sandella’s Flatbread Café, a healthy flatbread concept which we acquired in 2009 as well as our home-grown coffee shop brand, Bean There, across the UAE and Qatar. In addition, we are also exploring the idea of packaged/pre-cooked meals, as well the possibility of adding a few new retail ventures to our existing portfolio.

Will you be hiring in the next six months?

This is very much on the agenda and currently taking place as we speak. Our human capital team has been busy identifying the right candidates both at home and abroad to help us continue to service our new and existing contracts.

How is the overall catering industry performing in the Middle East?

The catering industry has and continues to evolve at a tremendous pace in the Middle East. Based on our own observations, customers are becoming more selective and their expectations are much higher. The talent is much better and end result is continuous improvement in the product and human resources.

Where do you see it headed in the near future?

The future of our industry is heading towards healthier food, more advanced equipment and kitchens, and more focus on flavour and quality rather than quantity.

What’s your leadership style?

Our business is all about people, so trusting, respecting, engaging and listening to people is the key. In addition, I have to create the right environment where everyone can do their best and beyond. Experience has taught me that if you get this balance right, you can get the results you need.

Three tips for becoming the boss…

• Trust and respect your people
• Learn something new everyday
• Do something outside your core responsibility