By Johara Al Mogbel
Meet Nawaf Al Fouzan, the intrepid entrepreneur behind Hamburgini.
There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that Hamburgini is the “It” burger of Riyadh. Fresh, yummy, and affordable, it was a revolution in the very, very extensive burger scene. The world, of course, has Nawaf Al Fouzan to thank for that. A business graduate tech expert who loved to cook, he built up Hamburgini and helped it to the success it is now.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Riyadh in a large family that loves cooking. When I was young, I used to enjoy spending time with my mother in the kitchen helping her out with cooking.
In 1994, I finished my university degree in business and I headed to the USA to finish my MBA in 1997. During my stay in the US, I used to cook for fun. I usually love cooking things differently with a twist and both my roommate and I gained weight during that time. I am not sure if this is bad or good but he never complained.
When I returned to Saudi, I worked in technology then I moved to the financial industry but I was always dreaming of starting my own business. So, I started my technology business, Al Fouzan Distribution in 2004 and distributed products like Buffalo, Brother, TrendNet, and different wireless networking products. But still, I felt food is my passion and should be my next business.
What’s the concept behind the brand?
Burger is an easy concept if you love it, and difficult if you don’t. I love burgers. I enjoy them and sometimes I even travel to test or try a burger. I managed to build a good knowledge of burger making and tasting. And when you keep testing on your friends and family and they keep pushing you to make more, you realize that they sincerely like what you’ve made.
I am a fan of encouraging entrepreneurship, so I decided to start a food business and begin with something that I believe I can be good at. Adding in a business background with accounting in particular, I learnt that I should be more conservative and offer a product that no one can say no to, a good quality and yet fast casual burger, and thus the concept was born.
The concept was thought up in 2009, but the construction of the first location was in 2011. Do you find it important to leave a certain amount of time between idea and execution?
Sometime entrepreneurs think of an idea, but when they sleep on it they lose interest. It’s important to leave a gap to collect information. Watch and observe others. Would you leave the idea for a better one? Are you a person who is usually jumping on different ideas?
But in my case it was different. I didn’t leave the gap by choice. It was hard to find the right location, at the right cost, with a property owner willing to rent a space for an unknown brand.
What was the most difficult thing you came up against in the process of developing Hamburgini?
I must say that manpower is usually the number one challenge entrepreneurs face here in Saudi Arabia. And Hamburgini was not an exception. Finding the people who are willing to work in a newly established business requires a lot of convincing.
In Riyadh, it’s unfortunately common for a restaurant to start strong but then get worse as time passes. Why do you think that is?
If you are talking about franchised stores, it’s possible because the launching teams are usually strong and the moment they leave, customers start noticing. Also, quality drops if you change supplier to a lower quality, when you don’t have enough staff, when you don’t have quality assurance team or audit, when the owner loses interest in the business or opens a different one, or sometimes when the business is sold to a new owner.
From what we’ve understood, the restaurant started as a joint project between three investors: yourself, Adnan and Abdullah Aleisa, but has now progressed into a company. What changed, and where would you like to see the company in a few years?
It started with Food Basic Est (single owner under Nawaf Al Fouzan) and then it was changed into a limited liability company with the same mentioned owners.
As far as our plans, we are thinking of going international but we will start with covering the entire KSA and GCC.
What is your advice for any future food entrepreneurs?
Although the list can be a very long one, I would suggest that they should do the following:
- Work for a while to gain experience in private sector and preferably small firm with good training program.
- Attend as many food shows and events as you can.
- Eat outside a lot with intention of understanding the business.
- Watch Food Network channel and make the “food business” your new life.