A Dutch burger baron reveals the secret to his halal success

Food
Tarek Cherkawi. Photo courtesy of Johnny's Burger.

Tarek Cherkawi started franchising his halal burger company, Johnny’s Burger, in 2015, and three years later, he has 20 burger joints in the Netherlands. But he’s not done yet. His five-year-plan is to have 100 burger joints catering to the country’s approximately 1 million Muslims.

Ambitious plans indeed. But according to Tarek, the success of his chain is down to the fact that he doesn’t promote his company as halal except to communities that actually want halal. 

“WE ARE OPEN TO EVERYONE,” TAREK TOLD MY SALAAM. “WE HAVE TO TARGET EVERYBODY AND MAKE SURE NOT TO ALIENATE THE MAINSTREAM CUSTOMER. WE MAY MAKE MORE MONEY IF WE SELL OUR BRAND AS A HALAL RESTAURANT AND FOCUS ON THE MUSLIM CUSTOMER. BUT WE DON’T WANT TO SCARE AWAY THE NON-MUSLIM.”

He says that a lot of people think Johnny’s is an American chain, but the franchise’s name comes from the pizza chain that Tarek’s father ran for nearly 40 years. When he retired, he sold one outlet to his son, who decided to start a hamburger restaurant and stick with the name; he liked that it sounded international.

As chains like McDonald’s only had fish burgers to offer their Muslim customers, Johnny’s and its certified halal beef gained a quick following. Tarek told us that, when he and his mother were experimenting with spice mixes for the burger meat in his kitchen back in 2011, they were already focused on good quality brioche for the bread, halal beef and fresh vegetables. His burgers were so good that wholesalers approached him to buy his burger meat mix. This resulted in a number of shop-in-shops where Johnny’s burgers were sold.

Netherlands_Johnnys Burger_The team

The team. Photo courtesy of Johnny's Burger.

But Tarek wasn’t happy with the way his products were being sold and decided that the only way to expand his business and keep control of the quality and image of his product was through hard franchising. “We provide everything, from the interiors to the food to the delivery,” he said. To ensure that the quality of the products and services is being maintained, his operations team regularly sends mystery guests to his franchises.

Volkan Dursun, one of the investors in his franchises, has several reasons for investing in Tarek’s chain, but the most important for him is because they sell 100-percent halal burgers as a professional operating franchise concept. “I see this, from an entrepreneurial perspective, as a big plus because it serves a very large and diverse group in the market,” Volkan said.

He was also attracted by the relatively small investment needed for what he thinks has major growth potential. And it helps that he is a fan of the burgers. “I have visited many national and international burger joints over the last [few] years, and every time I realise that we really have some good tasting burgers,” he remarked.

Tarek says that he had wanted to start something unique, and before he started Johnny’s Burger, he travelled a lot to sample different burgers. According to him, his company’s USP is that they offer a burger delivery-and-takeaway concept, where the quality of the food is the same as that of restaurants but at a very reasonable price. “Muslim customers like to dine in because they want to see the halal certification. But they are about 10 percent of my business. Most of it comes from the delivery service,” Tarek said.

Before he expands abroad, he wants to have 50 Johnny’s Burger outlets in the Netherlands. “I really like my work. The employees are very driven,” he said. “And I was born in the kitchen. I cannot do anything else as it is in my blood.”

(Writing by Susan Muthlaly; Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@thomsonreuters.com)

© MySalaam.com 2018 All rights reserved

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