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Food Scientist – Sophia Sleiman shares her story

Sophia Sleiman

In this interview Food Scientist – Sophia Sleiman shares her story. Further, we discover what drives and fuels her passion for the food industry. We are keen to know more about this food scientist, who is also a passionate dancer and personal trainer. She was born and raised in the UAE. Later, she majored in Food Sciences and Management at the American University of Beirut. This is where she specialized in the microbiology of food, food processing, food safety and the science of food based on the foundation of both business and nutrition.

1. How did you enter in the franchise business?

I believe it is crucial to understand the potential challenges your food business could face before you start franchising. We at Mantoushe have spent years defining, refining and optimizing all areas of operations, customer service, logistics, quality control and more! Throughout these years we’ve documented all these challenges and their solutions into a Standard Operating Manual that encompasses all the tools necessary for a Mantoushe franchisee to succeed. Once we reached a point where I felt confident in being able to support our franchisees we started discussions!

2. Where and how did the idea of your concept come from?

I am a food scientist who spent 6 years with the family business, assessing the potential feasibility of investments in F&B, pharmaceuticals, industry and more. Every day at work I would have the same problem – Time Vs. Quality – which do I chose? I found that the speed of delivery was the number 1 factor in determining the food I ordered and on most days I ended up making choices that led to a food coma. From this problem, I arrived at my solution – Because I had the background to develop a restaurant centered around REAL FOOD – food that is chopped, baked and grilled to order from real ingredients that retained their nutritional value (bye-bye food coma)! I also had the determination to serve this food FAST.

3. What inspired the brand name?

Mantoushe comes from the word “natche” which means “bite”! I wanted a name that represented the essence of the brand. Keeping in the line with our mission to serve REAL FOOD, I wanted the brand to also be bold, unapologetic and honest. We started to work with colors that I believe represented this; a charcoal black to represent the boldness & edge of the concept. For instance, a snow-white color to depict the openness, recycled steel with open ceilings and salvaged wood to depict the unapologetic honesty of the brand. Most importantly the bright signature Mantoushe green that represented real ingredients of the food. This where the idea of taking a REAL BITE came to life with the logo showing a wrap with a large bite taken out the front.

4. What makes your brand different from your competitors?

Mantoushe

We serve LEBANESE FUSION! What sets us apart as a brand is our flavors! We laid out the classic ingredients of the Lebanese cuisine & some signature flavors from around the world as if we were building a paint palette. From there, both the team and our customers started to mix, match and tweak to create a whole new set of masterpieces that make up our menu today! To highlight a few – We are the home of the Steakmous – a blend of slow-cooked beef, homemade hummus, crispy spicy potatoes, roasted pine nuts, fresh tomatoes and roasted garlic sauce all wrapped in freshly baked bread. Our FalafaGuac is a bestseller, blending Mexi-Lebanese ingredients to create a whole new flavor that’s loved by vegans and non-vegans alike! Finally, our Hummus Bar is the perfect example of fusion with 6 different flavors that you can order individually or all together!

5. What are the essential qualities that you look for in a franchisee?

Franchising is a partnership, and so when we analyse potential franchisees we do so in the same way we would when looking at any partnership – we look for the same qualities which we expect of ourselves. A few of these include;
1. Operational experience and the ability to implement the same standards of operation.
2. A strong focus on customer experience and service; every single customer is extremely valuable and should have the best possible experience we can deliver.
3. An unequivocally strict approach to quality control & hygiene.
4. Team focused strategies to ensure every member is constantly encouraged to grow, develop and be the best version they can be in working at Mantoushe.

6. How long does it take, in an average, for your franchisee to realize their investment?

To give a proper response to this we would need to understand enough about the location, demographics and # of branches but on average it should take a franchisee 2-3 years.

7. What was the major challenge you faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

As a business, we have faced many challenges. From selecting a location that was not suitable for our business model, to designing a layout that didn’t optimize our operations… We tackled each of these by remaining dynamic, working with what we have and working towards the solution. One notable challenge was obviously the pandemic we are still working through; we adapted very quickly to implement changes in store & with logistics to ensure the safety of our customers & our team. Knowledge is power, and so we remained diligent in understanding what the best practices are to ensure that we follow both local & international regulations on hygiene, food preparation, food deliveries, etc. In parallel, since our sales dipped we communicated with suppliers, landlords and more to reduce whatever costs we could.

7.1 What is your best achievement?

That’s easy, my best achievement is my team. Over the years (and even today) I spend countless hours encouraging, training and nurturing every member of the team to ensure they are the best possible version of themselves. That to me is one of the key reasons behind our success as a business. Without them believing in the brand just like I do and operating it like they are owners as well, I wouldn’t be able to scale, grow and trust that the vision of Mantoushe is carried through.

8. How does your business day start?

My business day always starts with a list! I have three types of lists; long term, medium-term and daily ones. Every quarter I list out the major objectives of the next three months taking into consideration how we performed previously and what we need to achieve to meet our annual goals. Once my overall strategy is defined, I transition onto monthly or bi-monthly lists and this then guides how I start my day – a list of daily objectives, pending topics, new ideas. And a cup of coffee of course.

9. What was your best moment throughout your franchise career?

The franchise career is just beginning. So far signing the first agreement has to be the highlight but I look forward to the day we break our target sales numbers in that branch.

10. Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Mantoushe is at a place where it can scale and I’d love to see the brand grow with franchise partners that can help take it to the next level both regionally and internationally.

11. Any tips you want to impart to our readers who want to be in the franchise industry?

Know your business as much as you possibly can, so you can be the best franchise partner to your franchisees!

Mantoushe Mantoushe

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