Middle East getting its own Hwy 55 burgers
By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 31, 2012 1:46 PM
Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries founder and owner Kenney Moore makes his international announcement.
MOUNT OLIVE -- "Andy" is headed overseas.
Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes and Fries founder and owner Kenney Moore Monday afternoon announced that Al Rumaithy, an international company based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, has committed to 15 restaurants in that country and has an option for another 70 restaurants in the Middle East.
The company also has options for restaurants in North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
The restaurants are known for their iconic 1950s theme, wait staff running to open doors for customers and classic American fare of cheeseburgers and fries -- things, that along with the company's business philosophy, attracted Al Rumaithy, Moore said.
"They are actively seeking locations right now," Moore said. "In fact, they have two or three in mind that they are preparing to act on already. If all goes well, this is probably a four-to-six-month process and we will have a restaurant open in the Middle East."
The announcement comes just months after the company's name was changed from Andy's Burgers, Shakes and Fries to avoid a potential legal battle over the federal trademark for the name "Andy's" that arose as the company prepared to expand into other states.
The company will continue to operate out of its headquarters in the Mount Olive Industrial Park just north of town.
"I don't have any desire to go anywhere else," Moore said.
In February, Moore announced the company would add nearly 300 stores and 6,000 employees as it expanded into Virginia, South Carolina and Florida over the next six to seven years.
Moore opened his first restaurant in Berkeley Mall in Goldsboro in 1991, naming it after his son, who was 18 months old at the time. It had grown to 100 restaurants across North Carolina when the expansion was announced.
"We started our expansion over a year ago now moving outside the boundaries of North Carolina," Moore said. "We have been specifically interested in the Southeast. We have been blessed to sign up Florida, Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina. Recently we also added Ohio to that mix. We sold the rights to 50 locations in Ohio with the first one hoping to open in Cincinnati by year's end."
The new stores out of state are doing extremely well and the company has received numerous inquiries, he said.
"Well, we started getting these emails," Moore said. "We have received a bunch from international individuals and most, of course, we haven't responded to. But this company out of Abu Dhabi continued to not only email us, but call us.
"So Guy Gutherie, who is the head off my franchise sales, came in the office and said, 'Kenney, what do you want me to do about this?' I said, 'Call them back and just see who they are and what they are interested in.' Long story short, they were very interested in our concept. They really, really loved the fact that we are an all-American concept -- burgers, shakes, fries. It is '50s-themed. It just captivated their idea of what America was all about in a sense."
Huseyin Sevket, a consultant for Al Rumaithy, traveled 27 hours to get to Mount Olive to meet with Moore and company officials, and to visit the Crabtree Valley Mall restaurant in Raleigh.
"He left here hopefully impressed with what he saw because within a day or two of getting back to Abu Dhabi, he sent us a memorandum of intent which basically said they wanted to do business with us," Moore said. "There have been more discussion since then and they have committed to 15 stores in the United Arab Emirates.
"They also have an option to be the master franchisee in the rest of the Middle East for an additional 70 locations that they have identified that they can do. It was kind of interesting when I asked them why they didn't want to commit to the full 85 upfront, he said, 'Well with what is going on in Egypt right now, for instance, we are not sure what direction that country is going to go whether it is going to continue to move forward in sort of a western sense or move backward.'"
The company is still addressing the issue of logistics and finding sources for products to use, he said.
The menu and taste will be the same, although Moore joked that he might have to share his burger seasoning recipe.
"It is not quite Col. Sanders, but I hold onto it," Moore said. "The only menu difficulty we have identified to this point other than logistically sourcing products over there, is obviously no pork -- no bacon, no ham and cheese in the Middle East but everything else translates."
There is even a sense of camaraderie from the business side, Moore added.
"As businessmen they are a lot like I am in the sense we shook hands. If they trust you, just like me, if I trust somebody, a handshake is really all I need. I don't need it wrapped up in a thousand pages of documents to do what I say I am going to do. They do the business very much the same way. It matters to them, character matters and being in business with people they trust matters as much as anything drawn up by the attorneys."
Moore said Sevket was hired by the company to develop Hwy 55 for the Middle East.
"He has done this before. It not his first American concept taken to the Middle East," Moore said. "It was very flattering that he said that after looking at our back-of-the-house stuff and our controls and stuff, he said that he had seen many concepts through the years that have pieces of what we have, but he had never seen one, especially one our size, to have all of the pieces in place.
"That is a real testament to my team here and the folks that I get to work with on a daily basis. They have done a wonderful job."
Opening a store in the Middle East is a long way from that first Andy's and there is a long way to go, too, Moore said.
"This could be a stepping stone into even more international type business as well," Moore said. "When I look back, I remember when we opened the Mount Olive store here in 1994. I didn't know how we would ever get to 20. Physically I thought I would collapse before we ever opened up our 20th restaurant.
"So, yeah, now the vision is a little different. I guess it is as big as your mind can conceive and believe you can do it and that is kind of where we are at. We want to figure this one out. We want to make sure that we can do it internationally and do it well and then the sky is the limit."