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29/02/2016 - 16:24
Meat & Shake, a non alcohol bar and smokehouse restaurant chain, was founded by Faraz Ahmad three years ago at the peak of London’s burger boom. Maria Bracken caught up with him to find out how business is faring
The concept, backed by Sheikh Holdings Group, launched in Tooting after Ahmad, along with business partner Osmond Ahmed, saw a gap in the market for serving high quality halal meat to diners. “When eating out we were surprised that so many restaurants didn’t accommodate for the wider community.”
They had such a huge response to the opening of the Tooting branch that shortly after they went on to launch sites in Ealing and Watford.
“Day one of opening the Tooting site was just chaos,” explains Ahmad. “We had a three hour queue of diners waiting to be seated. It really kicked off. We had such strong support from the local community.”
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing: “One of the challenges we faced was landlords taking us seriously as we were just a single operator at the time. I think there is a lot of red tape around opening a business in this country. The government should look into it, making it easier for those who haven’t opened a business before, providing more support.”
However this hasn’t fazed them, with further expansion plans on the horizon. “We have put bids in for Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester, White Chapel. We would like to open two more sites this year.”
“Although”, he adds, “we are in no rush for central London, but if the right site comes up, we won’t hold back. East London is also on the table. We are looking nationwide and had some interest from the Middle East.”
Having said all of that, he hates the idea of becoming a big chain. “You lose your sense of identity,” he says. “You end up becoming this cold hearted business that becomes all about numbers. We want to keep balanced and stay true to our roots.”
Signature dishes on the menu include the Smoked Bandit comprising smokey chipotle mayo, tomato, lettuce, smokey cheddar, sautéed onions, smokey turkey bacon. Other dishes include the Pit Bull Dog featuring a home-smoked hot-link sausage slathered in mustard with sauerkraut, melting cheese and caramelised caraway-bacon shards.
A variety of milkshake flavours are also available including fig and cinnamon, peanut butter, brownie, and banana and coconut and mango. Average spend per customer is £14 in the Tooting and Ealing branches, and £16 per head in Watford.
Transparency is also key. “We want to add theatre to the dining experience. We also do this through our open kitchen. We don’t want to shy away from the way our food is cooked.”
In terms of where the market is heading, Ahmad thinks the sector will see more people wanting to tap into the casual dining space.
He adds: “I think we will see a bigger influx in fast casual/street food. Everyone loves dirty food. I have noticed a lot of street food vendors becoming restaurants and getting investment on board and becoming multiple operators. It is a booming environment.
“Technology has also had a big boom. We all live around the web now. This year is going to be the boom of technology in the food industry.
“I think we can safely say we are the food capital of the world now ... watch this space.”