The company, which serves filled pitas, operates 37 restaurants in Finland as well as sites in Sweden and Estonia and has signed a master franchise in Norway. It wants to open between three and five restaurants in London over the coming years before potentially rolling it out further as a franchise.
Its first UK restaurant will open on Monmouth Street in Seven Dials in September.
Fafa’s stared life eight years ago when founder Doron Karavani opened a small kiosk in Punavuori, Helskini, serving street food using flavours from the cuisine in Tel Aviv where he grew up.
Speaking exclusively to BigHospitalty, Karavani discusses his plans for the brand in London.
Why do you want Fafa’s to come to London?
If you want to show your concept to the world then it’s the best place to have visibility. London, New York and Tokyo are the main capital cities of the world, and London is the closest one to us. I also see it as a very competitive market, and if you take that challenge and you succeed the rewards are great. For me that’s the reason for doing it in London - I like challenges.
Why decide on Covent Garden?
We decided we wanted to enter UK market two years ago, but we are not Five Guys or another big US company with tons of money so we did it quite organically by getting in touch with the right people and building a network. London is a very expensive city, if you want to get into the restaurant business the premium prices you have to pay are crazy, so it wasn’t easy to find the right site. It’s also so big, so it’s hard to know where you want to go. We got to know the landlord Shaftesbury and we introduced our concept to them through presentations and they got really excited. Most big landlords prefer to have a big company as a tenant, they don’t take risks, but Shaftesbury are a bit different, they want to create streets with new brands. They showed us a few locations around Soho and Covent Garden and Monmouth Street reminded me of how we started out. We pitched for it and got it.
It’s a small site and everything will be done in house. I started out with a site that was 35m sq and this is 55m sq, so it’s slightly bigger but it’s still easy to create a cosy atmosphere. Fafa’s is about takeaway - in our culture we eat fast food or casual street food on the go, so our restaurants don’t need much seating. The next site in London perhaps will be bigger, with more seats.
You have a franchises in some countries, but London will be fully company owned...
Yes, for London we want to do it ourselves to minimise mistakes. It is a very competitive market so we want to make sure we get it right. It gives us the ability to be flexible and creative with our food and make changes depending on customer preferences.
Will London Fafa’s be different from those in Finland?
The menu will be slightly different. In the UK people eat a lot of breakfast out of home so we will have a breakfast menu, while in Nordic countries we don’t. I’ve decided to take the best from the Nordic menus such as our vegetarian pitas, but to also create pitas that are more suitable for the London market. I’d like to think of London as a place we can learn from and take to other countries rather than other way round. It will still have a focus on healthy food: around 60% of our customers are women, who see us a healthier version of the typical street food/fast food scene.
What’s on the menu?
In Finland our most popular dish is a pita filled with falafel and grilled halloumi so that will feature, alongside ones such as falafel and cauliflower with tomato, cucumber, cumin, lettuce and tahini; and falafel, hummus and aubergine with cucumber, cabbage, pickles, lettuce and tahini. We will also be serving our kebabs, such as the merguez with a lamb patty, tzatziki, coriander and rocket; and our chicken kebab. New menu items will include a pita filled with short ribs, spiced beetroot and tahini; one with grilled shrimps and harrisa; a hot smoked salmon and aubergine pita and a chicken liver pita. They wouldn’t buy that in Finland but in London there’s a target group for anything. We’re also going to have a English breakfast in a pita with ingredients such as egg, beans and potatoes; and a green herb omelette in a pita. It’s very exciting to test it out. We’ll also serve sides such as fries and sweet potato fries, falafel and tahini and hummous and pita.
What’s the price point?
In Finland our pitas are around 10 euros and average spend is 13 euros including sides. We are aiming in London at £6.50-£8 for a pita and closer to £10 average spend. It will be affordable.
What are your future plans?
We plan to open three to five restaurants ourselves in different parts of London to test the market with different target groups. In Covent Garden we are not touching the locals and we want to do that too. The idea is to build up a logistic infrastructure, have the numbers and from there start franchising. We want to succeed in London and then after that in New York, and then it’s about doing master franchises in other countries. We are in negotiations to take Fafa’s to India and Holland, there is interest as we are a bit different. Once people are aware of what we do it’s easy to find entrepreneurs to run their own sites. I want Fafa’s to be a big international brand. In the future I want people to choose between Subway, McDonald’s and Fafa’s. It’s not the money that pushes me, it’s the challenge of doing something big.