The sweet smell of success

Dessert restaurant franchise Creams Cafe, is an established and expanding food retail opportunity for those wanting a different kind of offering

The sweet smell of success

Dessert restaurant franchise Creams Cafe, is an established and expanding food retail opportunity for those wanting a different kind of offering, and has plans for significant UK and international growth. We spoke to MD Othman Shoukat, to find out more….

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream, right? Which is why it has become a very lucrative franchise opportunity in more than 100 locations across the UK thanks to Creams Cafe.

In 2008 Creams Cafe was founded by Balal Aqil and Adam Mani, and in 2012, the firm opened its dedicated Creams Gelato Factory, followed by two more Creams Cafe units in 2013.

Between 2014 and 2018, 63 locations were launched. In 2020 Pistachio Holdings, and co-investor Salonica Maroon, acquired a majority stake in the business, to support in taking it to the next level, driving its ambitions for international and further UK expansion.

The brand now works with over 30 multi-unit franchise partners and has an estate of around 100 locations. And it is already looking at international expansion, with a master franchisee partner signed up in Egypt.

“I have now been involved with Creams for over four years,” explains managing director, Othman Shoukat. “I initially got involved with Creams as an advisor to the Board. This was to support the scale up of the brand and help realise its aspiration to become the world’s leading dessert brand franchise.

“I took over at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and my initial focus was to lead the Covid task force which consisted of managing the company’s Covid response with a focus on ensuring the viability of our store estate and supporting our franchise partners.”

Those franchise partners have three concept options available to them:

  • Cafe, which allows franchise partners to operate a full-service restaurant and is aimed at groups and family outings
  • Kiosk which runs like the cafes, but is around 1,000sq ft smaller in size and ideal for smaller towns
  • A pop-up model, created for smaller stores in high-footfall locations such as shopping centres, offering Creams to those on the go.

For franchise partners the support package includes:

  • A turnkey solution for design, build and opening your own Creams Cafe location
  • Product innovation team so you set the dessert trend rather than follow it
  • Order from Creams’ own gelato factory in London – we have a dedicated supply chain for all core products
  • Creams Academy Training Excellence Centre – essential training for you and your team plus bespoke training for ongoing needs
  • Marketing support team including seasonal promotions to drive customer purchases
  • HR department to assist with recruitment and employment compliance
  • Dedicated business manager. 

Initial training and ongoing support includes:

  • An intensive 2-week training course for franchise partners and their management teams at the Creams Academy
  • A comprehensive eLearning platform for refresher training
  • Launch training and support from the Creams Launch Team for your team to deliver better customer service and brand standards
  • Assistance with recruiting and training new staff, marketing, product control, website development and other operational areas
  • Business planning reviews from your dedicated Area Manager. 
  • Investment ranges from £85,000 to £250,000 depending on the site concept and the structural requirements of each location.

Creams is also working on an option to work with concession partners in other stores.

“We assess this on a case-by-case basis to ensure the brands align well with our value proposition,” says Shoukat. “We will be announcing two new partnerships in the next few weeks which we are very excited about.”

Having thrived through the pandemic, when it stayed open and strengthened partnerships with companies such as Deliveroo, UberEats and Just Eat to improve its delivery business, like many UK businesses, Creams now feels it has future-proofed itself for further economic challenges. Shoukat is confident that the company is well placed to ride out the storm.

“Yes, of course, we will need to do things we ideally wouldn’t want to be doing, such as increasing prices, but this is inevitable given all our costs are increasing. But more fundamentally, Creams provides a respite to young people and families from the hardships of day-to-day life. We offer great value for money and that’s why our customers keep coming back to us for affordable treats.

“Even in difficult economic times, people still need to treat themselves occasionally and we think we strike the right balance between being a crowd pleaser for the entire family whilst also offering excellent value for money.”

<p>The firm is helping franchise partners with marketing activities (both local and national) in order to bring in more customers through the door, while advising them to keep a tight control on costs through disciplined labour scheduling and limiting wastage on all aspects of their business from food to equipment energy usage.</p>
<p>Those signing up as franchise partners will join a firm that has broad ambitions here and abroad, with a target of creating 500 stores globally in the next five years.</p>
<p>“In order to do this,” explains Shoukat, “we are promoting sustainable growth both in the UK and internationally and aligning this expansion with an experiential and engaging guest experience.</p>
<p>“In the UK, we want to expand our estate to at least 300 stores nationwide through our network of franchise partners. We also have our sights set on international expansion so opening 200 stores across at least 20 international territories in the next five years.”</p>
<p>And the key to that, says Shoukat, is the quality of franchise.</p>
<p>“Our growth has to be underpinned by a great people and team culture and best practice corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. At the core we are a people business – we seek to ensure we have a great atmosphere where our franchise partners and teams can thrive and succeed.”</p>
<p>In the crowded fast food franchise market, there is much competition from some heavyweight options which are household names. So, for anyone looking for a food franchise business opportunity, what is the Creams elevator pitch?</p>
<p>“There are several things that make us stand out – as a brand and as a franchise. Firstly, our people are more important to us than anything – even more than ice cream! From franchise partners to restaurant staff, our dessert innovators to our customers, people are at the core of everything we do.</p>
<p>“Secondly, we’re passionate about our product. We have our own gelato factory in London which means we have the benefit of product development capabilities in-house, excellent quality assurance and less of a reliance on external suppliers. The proof is in the pudding – pardon the pun – our customers tell us how our products taste great which is something we’re very proud of.</p>
<p>“Customers can enjoy a wide range of freshly prepared desserts ranging from waffles and crêpes to puddings and sundaes, an innovative doughnut range and extensive plant-based desserts, alongside savoury popcorn chicken waffle bites – a UK first. All desserts feature Creams’  own gelato which is produced daily using Italian-sourced ingredients in East London. In 2021, Creams served more than 4 million customers, dishing out over 50 million scoops of gelato and 1 million milkshakes.”</p>
<p>That’s quite a long elevator ride, but you get the picture. People and product are the key. Oh, we’re going up again.</p>
<p>“Our three different restaurant concepts help us deliver the first two USPs. These concepts take into account the diversity of our customers and the locations where they wish to visit us to enjoy a treat, ensuring franchise partners can build a great portfolio of restaurants within their communities.</p>
<p>“Finally, we offer a great balance to franchise partners – a very reputable and well-known brand but our initial fees and capex are much more affordable than multinational franchises. We have built our support centre infrastructure and team to support sustainable growth. We have a very talented, experienced and dedicated team who have worked with single-site operators evolving to successful multi-unit operators. We know our franchise partners by name – we are like a small, tight-knit family that is expanding fast!”</p>
<p>With ten more stores opening in the UK by the end of this year, Creams continues to thrive and its well-managed and comprehensive support package appeals to anyone seeking a different type of food retail opportunity that dishes out family-friendly products that scoop up a decent level of profit.</p>
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Ronnie Dungan
Ronnie Dungan