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Kitopi Acquires AWJ In What Has Been Billed As One Of The Largest F&B Transactions In The Middle East The deal is said to be part of Kitopi's ongoing strategy to invest in and grow much-loved regional brands, and then take them global.

By Tamara Pupic

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Mohamad Ballout, co-founder and CEO of Kitopi, and Manhal Naser, former Group CEO and Co-Founding Director, AWJ

Kitopi, the UAE-born "tech-powered, multi-brand restaurant" company, has acquired fellow homegrown enterprise, AWJ, the F&B group behind some of the Middle East's most popular dine-in brands like Operation Falafel, Catch 22, Awani, and Sushi Do, for an undisclosed amount.

The transaction, which has been billed as one of the largest in the region's F&B space, has been portrayed by Kitopi as part of its ongoing strategy to invest in and grow much-loved regional brands, and then take them global.

"With a purpose to satisfy the world's appetite to create joy, we always strive to bring the best to our customers," said Mohamad Ballout, co-founder and CEO of Kitopi. "AWJ has built some of the region's much loved brands, and it is going to be a privilege to continue to innovate, elevate, and expand its success."

With the acquisition, Ballout will take over the leadership at AWJ, but the company will retain its original team that led to its success, and operate as a separate vertical to Kitopi's on-demand business. According to Ballout, this structure has been made possible thanks to the cultural alignment between the two teams.

Image courtesy Kitopi.

"We've done over 18 acquisitions in the last 18 months, and what we've seen is that with smaller acquisitions, you can integrate teams much faster," he explained. "However, with a business the size of AWJ, especially one that is growing rapidly, the right approach is for them to maintain independence, so they can continue to move fast."

"At the same time, you find ways to build synergies to advance both teams," Ballout continued. "We're doing this across two areas- firstly, enabling AWJ to leverage our tech stack, and secondly, merging components of our culture such as flexible working, wellbeing, and other critical areas that affect overall productivity and happiness. We have so much to learn from AWJ, and vice versa."

Since opening its first outlet in Dubai in 2014, AWJ has expanded its portfolio to more than 10 brands (delivery and dine-in), and over 32 outlets across the UAE and KSA, franchises in New York and London, and more than 1300 employees.

"It has been an honor to establish, lead, and work so closely with the AWJ team whom I consider as family," said Manhal Naser, former Group CEO and co-founding Director, AWJ. "We have built on our core fundamentals, raising the bar, and setting the business up for a sustainable future. thanks to our 1300+ team champions, our supporting shareholders, the unique brands we have created, and the millions of consumers we serve. It is now time for a new chapter, and having worked closely with Kitopi and Mohamed Ballout, I believe they are best positioned to take AWJ to the next level."

Operation Falafel is one of the brands under the AWJ banner. Image courtesy Kitopi.

Kitopi is known to have reached unicorn status as a startup in 2021, which was when it became the first UAE-headquartered company to get funded by SoftBank'sVision Fund 2. The company has experienced uber growth since launching as a cloud kitchen in Dubai in 2018- it now runs over 100 brands with more than 5,000 employees across offices in KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain, who operate over 200 locations across five markets. Kitopi also has an engineering hub in Krakow, Poland, a global customer experience center in Dubai, UAE, and a Robotics Hub in Odense, Denmark.

In the years since its launch, Kitopi has also transformed from being just a cloud kitchen to a tech-powered, multi-brand restaurant, which Ballout describes as a sign of the company always remaining in tune with the demands of its customers. "Our purpose of satisfying the world's appetite to create joy has not changed, and one of the ways in which we fulfill this purpose is by always providing the best brands to customers, which means staying in tune with our customers' needs at all times, and always delivering to the best of our abilities," he explains. "Our customers today want a hybrid experience, and so, we mirror this by offering our brands in a format they want to experience it in- whether they want eat at home, or they want to go dine at a restaurant. And this is what keeps us ahead of the curve."

Ballout notes here that although his team has exhibited extreme agility of the last 18 months of this transition, it has not been without its challenges. "One such challenge is building on our existing capabilities as a business, to ensure we are as sustainable as possible," he says. "So, while previously we would look at just fitting out a kitchen, today it takes longer, as we're also looking at building out potential front-of-house locations."

But at the end of the day, Ballout credits Kitopi's leap from a startup to a scaleup to the fact that his organization is one that can continually learn at a fast pace. "Across the business, regardless of what position you hold, it's in our values to learn, adapt, and apply back into the business to drive better results," he says. "Today, we're stepping up the way in which we drive processes, decision-making, and we're constantly developing ourselves as a team."

Related: Behind The Scenes Of Saudi Fintech Startup Hala's Acquisition Of UAE-Based Online Payment Platform Paymennt

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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