Meet The MENA Startup Behind The Food You Love: Kaykroo's 23 Virtual Restaurant Brands Are Making Their Presence Felt In Saudi Arabia and The UAE

From its 330 operational virtual restaurants, Kaykroo has taken the delivery food business by storm, and forged a role as the largest cloud kitchen platform for its own virtual restaurants in the UAE.

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For a company putting food on the table for thousands of people across the UAE and Saudi Arabia, few might know its name, Kaykroo- but the 23 virtual restaurant brands it owns and operates are on everyone's lips.

Waleed Shah
Kaykroo founder and CEO Jihad El-Eit

From its 330 operational virtual restaurants, Kaykroo has taken the delivery food business by storm, and forged a role as the largest cloud kitchen platform for its own virtual restaurants in the UAE. To put this in perspective, other major F&B brands like McDonald's and Subway both currently operate less than 200 branches across the UAE. The macroscale cloud kitchen might not be a household name -yet- but its hugely popular brands, including Manoushe Street, The Good Bowl, and Susuru certainly are.

From day one, the company's founder and CEO, Jihad El-Eit, set out to reimagine the way that the food and beverage industry is structured, and how it engages with its customers: from brick-and-mortar to brick-and-click. His success in building 23 incredible brands under the Kaykroo umbrella hasn't gone unnoticed- he was named Foodtech Leader of the Year at the inaugural Leaders in Foodtech Awards 2021, an event staged by Entrepreneur Middle East to showcase the individuals and enterprises that are shaping the future of this dynamic industry.

The industry is certainly dynamic, but it's also incredibly diverse- an ecosystem of giant unicorns, mid-sized innovators, and entry-level disruptors. Each has its place in a crowded but rapidly evolving sector. The multi-billion-dollar giants tend to operate a "cloud kitchen as a service" model, providing brands they don't own with services such as sourcing ingredients, aggregating orders, and preparing and delivering meals for restaurant brand owners. Others operate a real estate model, building cloud kitchens, and then onboarding restaurants to rent out kitchen space.

But it is brand development and ownership that interests the team at Kaykroo. "As a digital marketplace for homegrown F&B brands, our responsibility is to create, build, and manage a stable of incredible brands, each with its own brand identity, and each holding a very specific place in the market," says El-Eit. "Owning brands is fundamental to our ability to scale by establishing market-leading positions across a multitude of customer segments."

The brand portfolio model attracted the attention of investors from day one. The firm has, to date, raised US$25 million in seed and pre-Series A capital, and it is gearing up for major portfolio and geographic expansion, with the launch of its Series A round this quarter. Kaykroo's investors understand that for the region's largest virtual restaurant operator to scale up, artificial intelligence and machine learning have to play a leading role, which is why from inception, it has placed data at the center of its operations.

As a brand owner, data has proven to be Kaykroo's most important enabler of success, gifting the company with a uniquely rich end-to-end understanding of its diverse customer base and its relationships with the brands they love. "Using artificial intelligence and big data, we're able to understand precise customer and community preferences for each of our brands, their menus, presentation, and evolving tastes. That enables us to customize absolutely everything we do in real-time. Adaptation is everything- and essential to our ability to get better at what we do," says El-Eit.

Jihad El-Eit, founder and CEO, Kaykroo. Image courtesy Kaykroo/Waleed Shah

From its customer's perspective, "getting better" means getting more of what they like. However, they like it when they want it. By owning the entire value chain –from brand engagement to suppliers and logistics– Kaykroo has developed the ability to utilize data that is wholly owned. Meanwhile, for El-Eit, customer experience is a daily obsession- and integral to being able to build an F&B future that has specification at its core. That is his first priority– to create an amazing user experience for the customer, from the minute they order, to how they track it, to the moment they receive it, and how they go on to enjoy it and talk about it.

The delivery experience itself is maximized for El-Eit, creating opportunities for customers to share their experiences on social media, and engage directly with the brand in the digital sphere. El-Eit adds that digital engagement is part of Kaykroo's strategy for emotional equity. "We're in the business of creating hero brands that have an emotional connection. A great example is the Palestinian Bakery, which makes a direct emotional connection with its customers because it is authentic– it has brand integrity. From the authentic Palestinian ingredients, to the style of the packaging and branding, the Palestinian Bakery has formed a bond with its customers that goes way beyond food- it's about history, culture, and identity."

As El-Eit sets out to scale his business, he has his mind on diversification as much as culture and identity– for him, the two go hand in hand. "Diversification is about creating choice, creating variety, so that people are able to choose. And creating a diverse stable of businesses within the organization also means we are building a more sustainable model. That isn't only good news for our many thousands of customers, but what we need to deliver for our investors."

Diversity also allows kaykroo to drill down and develop highly tailored experiences that are also geographically relevant, such as the extension of its brands to the Saudi market. Every new market entry is developed and adapted to meet the specific needs of the local customer, which El-Eit describes as a formula for meaningful scalability through the creation of 'bespoke cultural experiences."

The experiences that El-Eit and his more than 700 employees create are scheduled to explode in variety and location in next to no time at all. By summer 2023, El-Eit intends to exceed 1,000 virtual restaurants across the region. While this startup's vision for growth may be ambitious, it is certainly achievable, having already built the largest, most diverse, and scalable portfolio of virtual restaurants in the region.

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East Publishes Report Looking Into The GCC's US$3 Billion Cloud Kitchen Industry