Replicating a Cheesecake Factory in Kuwait City is no mean feat, but M.H. Alshaya is making it happen, reports Beth Kowitt in Fortune (2/25/13). Through licensing agreements, Alshaya actually “manages dozens of international brands and thousands of stores” throughout the Middle East — “Starbucks, Pinkberry, IHOP, American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn, and Williams-Sonoma” among them. This requires navigating “cultural, religious, and regulatory protocols,” while maintaining fidelity to the authentic American retail experience.
Restaurants are particularly tricky, given Islamic dietary laws, and perhaps even more demanding given Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton’s insistence that the food tastes just as it does in its American restaurants. So, for example, the “meatloaf had to taste exactly the same using halal beef, sans Guinness marinade and pork bacon in the topping.” A beef bacon was developed and the cheese was marinated in non-alcoholic beer. The Chicken Madeira, traditionally made with wine, was re-created using “caramelized sugar with vinegar.”
Items that can’t be adequately replicated are dropped from the menu. Training is another hurdle: The wait-staff had to learn “that the Caramel Pecan Turtle Cheesecake didn’t actually contain turtle.” The Luau Salad is one of Cheesecake Factory’s most popular items, “but many of the new hires didn’t know what a luau was,” so this had to be explained. Such attention to detail has paid off, with 150 names on the waiting list for a table at the Cheesecake Factory in Dubai on its opening day, for instance. Each restaurant open for a year generates “about a half million dollars in profit.”