Hesham Almekkawi: Driving Business Growth while Optimizing Business Operations

Hesham Almekkawi

Leaders who are visionaries have a distinctive set of qualities and abilities that allow them to establish a clear and compelling vision for their company and motivate their team to work towards it. They have a talent for recognizing emerging trends and opportunities in the market and possess the foresight to anticipate their potential impact on the business in the long term.

Hesham Almekkawi, a seasoned international business consultant and an accomplished food and beverage industry stalwart, has amassed a wealth of over 28 years of expertise in orchestrating and managing the operations of illustrious global and international restaurant chains across the USA and the Middle East.

He is the mastermind behind AHRAMIZ FZ LLC, a pioneering leadership development and management consulting enterprise situated in Dubai, and the founder of A-TO-KEY, a distinguished consulting agency for restaurants in the United States. As the CEO of Tim Hortons Middle East, Hesham is leading the charge on the brand’s bold growth and expansion strategy throughout the region.

Journey to Success

Hesham embarked on his journey 28 years ago in the US. In 1995, he started working at Pizza Hut in New York as a restaurant manager. He worked his way up the ladder until he was eventually promoted to Regional Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region. During his time at Pizza Hut, he worked with both the corporate and franchisee sides of the business and was introduced to KFC and Taco Bell.

Hesham was present on the founding day of Tricon, which later became known as YUM! Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell. While working full-time, Hesham also pursued an MBA at the Zicklin School of Business in New York, graduating in 2003. After graduation, he served as an adjunct professor, teaching courses on operations management and service strategy.

In 2008, Hesham received an offer to relocate to the UAE and oversee operations for the Americana Group, the biggest YUM franchisee! Brands in the Middle East, encompassing KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

For Hesham, this presented a unique opportunity to return to the region where he was born and raised and to expand his knowledge of the F&B industry beyond the US by learning about the dynamics of a growth market and the major differences between mature markets like the US.

Although the transition was not without its challenges, particularly in terms of adapting to the business culture in the Middle East, Hesham was eager to move across countries and continents to grow, learn, and explore. He has long been known for his mantra, “go where you grow.”

Following his seven-year tenure with the Americana Group, Hesham pursued various leadership positions with different organizations. In 2021, he was selected to lead the ambitious growth plan for Tim Hortons in the Middle East. Under his leadership, the company has opened over 100 new restaurants in the last 16 months, bringing the total number of Tim Hortons locations in the Middle East to 270, with plans to reach 500 by 2025. Recently, Hesham was recognized as one of the 200 Global Inspiring Leaders by White Page International.

Throughout his career, Hesham has found great enjoyment in the challenges, opportunities, and personal and business growth the restaurant industry offers. His passion for serving and adding value to others has been the driving force behind his love for restaurants. His proudest moments have always been when he sees others grow and develop. For Hesham, this journey has been incredibly fulfilling, and he would happily repeat it again.

Tech Advancements in the Industry

The rise of AI is transforming the world in many ways, including the food and beverage industry. Technology in this sector is no longer limited to digital menu boards or ordering apps; it now encompasses the ability to understand consumer behaviour, purchasing habits, and food preferences, allowing Tim Hortons to tailor its offerings to meet these needs.

In the past, it was challenging to tailor a brand offering to millions of customers with different preferences, just like their fingerprints. However, with AI and technology, this is now possible. Hesham was particularly impressed by Tim Hortons Canada, where he witnessed new AI technology in action for drive-thru menu boards.

The system customizes the menu offering for each customer based on their past purchasing habits and favourites, which are identified through their personal QR codes from the Tim Hortons app. This type of technology is the future, helping us understand our customers better, speed up ordering times, and maximize sales.

Hesham says, “Customers in 2023 are not the same as those in the 1990s. AI in digital media advertising is defining the odds for who, when, what, and how. We should be a step ahead, or we will fall behind.”

Changes Required for the Food and Beverage Industry

Hesham aims to educate investors that opening a restaurant is not a part-time hobby for everyone. Many investors believe that restaurants are an easy way to invest and make money quickly, but Hesham has seen many people lose everything because they did not understand the restaurant business. These “noise makers” create chaos, affect established businesses, and exit after causing fragmentation that affects everyone.

Just like hospitals need doctors and nurses and auto shops need mechanics, restaurants need people who understand the business. Hesham believes that passion for food alone is insufficient to run a successful restaurant.

When someone tells him they have a passion for restaurants and want to open one, he asks them if they like to travel and therefore, if they should build a hotel. Opening a restaurant requires a significant amount of time, preparation, research, product development, site selection, training, and more.

For this reason, Hesham wrote his book, “The 9 Traits of Hero Brands.” He wanted to share his views on how to minimize the risk when investing in or creating a new brand. After researching “hero brands” for two years, he concluded that the nine traits are necessary for any brand to succeed.

The World Needs More Visionaries

According to Hesham, the food and beverage industry requires passionate entrepreneurs who possess knowledge, education, and business acumen related to food and beverage. He advises conducting thorough research before investing, and instead of looking for a gap in the market, entrepreneurs should search for a market in the gap.

Successful entrepreneurs create disruption by finding a market in the gap. This is the first trait mentioned in Hesham’s book, which outlines nine traits of hero brands. Hesham recommends that emerging entrepreneurs create a realistic business plan and seek expert advice. They should not be swayed by others’ success, as it is their money on the line.

Careful consideration should be given to the first location as it will determine the success of the venture. Using technology and data to evaluate the potential success rate of the location is essential. Investing money upfront is better than losing a lot later.

Entrepreneurs should ask potential customers about their offerings and the likelihood of success. They should always be present and focused on their investment, as no one else will do it for them.

Leading Tim Hortons to be “The Café of Choice”

At Tim Hortons, the vision is “To Be The Café Of Choice.” Unlike some other chains that prioritize having the most outlets or the largest market share, it focuses on creating a special and memorable experience for customers. The team strives to be the go-to destination for people seeking moments of enjoyment and relaxation.

For the Tim Hortons team, providing high-quality coffee is just the start. It wants to offer its customers an immersive and enjoyable experience, whether they’re together in one of its cafes or enjoying a cup of Tims coffee from afar. The mission is to provide experiential Tims moments to its customers always.

Hesham has had a fulfilling 28-year career in various countries, during which he has had the opportunity to meet fantastic people and mentor many individuals who have gone on to achieve immense success.

One of his proudest accomplishments is his involvement with Tim Hortons Middle East, which has a remarkable 60-year heritage in Canada and around the world. Hesham considers it a great privilege to be associated with this brand. He asserts, “We are the largest international company for Tim Hortons outside Canada, and we are on a mission to achieve the vision to become “The Café Of Choice.”