C3 on its recent MENA expansion: ‘The region is a hub of tech and culinary innovation’

16 Jul 2021

Omnichannel food tech platform Creating Culinary Communities (C3) is bringing its cloud kitchen and food delivery tech to the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, announcing a $100 million joint venture in Saudi Arabia just months after expanding to the United Arab Emirates.

Founded by Sam Nazarian in 2018, C3 is an omnichannel platform that manages and operates chef-driven restaurants, culinary centres, ghost kitchens and mobile food delivery. The start-up launched 165 locations in the US in its first year of operation and currently operates over 250 US digital brand locations. Its own mobile app, Citizens Go, allows people to group orders from different C3 restaurants into a single cart without incurring extra delivery fees.

C3 on its recent MENA expansion: ‘The region is a hub of tech and culinary innovation’

The Saudi Arabian joint venture with global investment group WK Holding splits equity 49% for C3 and 51% for WK Holding.

‘A new era for culinary concepts’

Called C3 Arabia, the joint venture’s site in Saudi Arabia, Citizens Food Hall, will open in Riyadh in the first quarter of 2022, and will feature full-service restaurants, a fast-casual food hall and ghost kitchens to serve demand for home delivery. The joint venture aims to open 30 brand locations in the first year and 550 by year five. C3 Arabia is also eying potential locations in gyms, petrol stations, airports, campuses, sports venues, malls and retail outlets.

Its restaurants range from gourmet burger chain Umami Burger and Sam's Crispy Chicken, which offers Southern fried chicken to premium brands including El Pollo Verde, created by Spanish Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia; 12 Caviar whose gastronomic menu is based on caviar from around the world; and Cicci Di Carne, inspired by local delis and butchers' shops.

Adapting global brands to local tastes

Joey Simons, senior vice president of operations, said the MENA region was an exciting market for C3 to expand into as it is becoming “a hub of tech and culinary innovation”.

He told The Ingredients Network: “There are certainly challenges with introducing completely new-to-market restaurant brands in any region for the first time. We’re confident our culinary concepts will be as well received in the Middle East as they have been in the United States, as MENA residents have developed an affinity for American-style fare through their international travels.

“A potential challenge that we perceived as an opportunity was sourcing our ingredients from local suppliers, which went hand-in-hand with adapting our popular US menus to feature local ingredients and flavours beloved by the MENA region. For example, we repurposed one of Umami Burger's recipes to feature Middle Eastern favourites such as Kofta patty, kewpie mayonnaise, and mint yogurt sauce.”

C3 says the expansion is fully in line with Vision 2030, a national strategic framework aimed at reducing Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil, diversifying its economy, and developing public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

Layla Abuzaid, Founder and CEO WK Holding, said: “C3's expansion throughout Saudi Arabia will democratize haute cuisine by owning the food tech space in the region and, we will assemble a best-in-class hospitality hub in the Kingdom for the region, for the world. We will unlock local talents, celebrate our vibrant culinary culture, and export globally.”

Kitopi partnership opens up UAE market

In May this year, C3 recently partnered with Kitopi, a Dubai-headquartered company that manages 65 cloud kitchens and more than 200 culinary brands across the Middle East.

Kitopi receives orders through delivery portals, sources ingredients, cooks meals to the same quality and consistency as the original restaurant and, via local partners, delivers the food to consumers.

Under the terms of the deal, C3 will license 10 of its digital restaurant brands to Kitopi including Umami Burger, Sam's Crispy Chicken and Krispy Rice, and will introduce Michelin-starred chef Masaharu Morimoto to the market through the launch of Sa'moto by Morimoto. C³ has aggressive expansion plans, intending to launch 150 brand locations across UAE in the first year.

The partnership marked C3‘s first international development and gave C3 access to Kitopi’s consumers in the UAE as well as its network throughout the Middle East and Asia.

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