A staple hangout for peckish revelers on the Berlin streets, the doner kebab has been a favourite street takeaway since the 1970s when Turkish immigrant Kadir Nurman began selling this conically stacked and vertically roasted slices of juicy seasoned meat with a piece of flat pita bread and salad at his stall at Bahnhof Zoo Station. Since then, more kebab shops have been set up in Berlin than even Frankfurt which honestly is no surprise as it’s a meal packed with flavors, protein, and enough nutritional content to keep guests going for the rest of the day.
In 1989, to offer this firm favourite with an elevated restaurant experience, the first-ever German Doner Kebab restaurant was launched in Berlin. German Doner Kebab then spent nearly a decade after that perfecting its products and recipes, creating its own unique blend of spices, innovating its signature sauces and perfecting its distinctive ‘Doner Kebab’ waffle bread.
Later, it launched in Dubai in 2008 where it developed its brand and offering and matured as an emerging franchise through its delicious game-changing kebabs and modern dining experience.
The fast-casual brand would launch its first UK restaurant in 2014, expanding to seven locations by the end of 2017.
However, its growth ambitions would gather huge momentum when the ownership was transferred to the Sarwar Family in 2017, with chairman Athif Sarwar making it his mission to grow the brand into the world’s number one kebab brand.
The fast-casual brand of the future is now forging ahead with global growth with 73 restaurants in UK, Europe and Middle East and now rapidly expanding in the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Ireland, with over 700 franchises already signed-up to its global growth strategy.
The brand currently has 52 restaurants in the UK, with plans to reach 100 by the end of 2021, and its flagship first site in North America also opened in Ottawa Canada at the start of September.
To learn more about this exciting brand and its game-changing kebabs, we sat down with Daniel Bunce, the Managing Director of GDK in the UK and Europe, and here’s what he shared with us.
“Kebabs done right!”
Daniel Bunce: “This motto reflects our focus on quality, giving guests an elevated dining experience, and bringing the kebab into the mainstream of the restaurant industry and so providing an exciting alternative. Undoubtedly, German Doner Kebab is the fast-casual brand of the future. We are entrepreneurial, nimble, agile quality-focused, innovative, and ensuring our guests enjoy the German Doner Kebab experience each and every time.”
“Our product range is based around the Doner Kebab – high quality, succulent meats, slow-cooked, and freshly prepared for each order, salads and vegetables freshly prepared every day, our unique toasted waffle bread and finally our signature sauces. Our ingredients are sourced from the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. We also have a great range of sides which are a hit with our customers such as doner spring rolls and doner nachos. The best seller is however the Original German Doner Kebab.”
“As our main purpose is to be a mainstream fast-casual restaurant brand competing in the broad QSR and Fast-casual restaurant sectors, we are differentiated by the quality, freshness, and uniqueness of our food offering, combined with a fast-casual dining experience that is truly resonating with the Gen Z consumer. Ultimately, our expectation-defying kebabs bring a fresh high-quality taste sensation that sets us apart from our competitors, bringing huge consumer demand and driving our relentless ambitions for growth.”
Commitment to surpass expectations
Daniel Bunce: “Our delicious kebabs game-changing kebabs and our laid-back restaurant environment is a place where people can hang out and relax with friends and family.”
“We are always looking to innovate and take advantage of new technology and improve how we do things. While we continue to cook our meats in the traditional doner kebab grillers, we have worked with our suppliers to ensure improvements to the cooking process and meat shaving equipment. We have also worked even more closely with our delivery partners during 2020 and continue to challenge their technology and lead the way in trialing new ‘ways to work’, ultimately to improve our guest experience. Further developments include technology that will improve our accuracy and speed of service.”
“We are also committed to driving innovation in our product range and responding to the needs of our customers. As part of our commitment to exploring new products that excite and capture the imagination of our loyal customers, we recently launched the new Boss Box to consumers that offers an immersive dining experience which people can enjoy both at home and in our restaurants. It has proven to be a huge hit with our customers across the globe.”
Forging ahead with growth during the pandemic
Daniel Bunce: “We forged ahead with our growth plans during the Pandemic, confirming our position as one of the world’s fastest growing restaurant chains. We have found ourselves in very challenging times however there continues to be a huge demand for the GDK experience throughout the UK and our international growth regions.”
“This demand has been reflected in a significant rise in same-store sales in August following our participation in the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, up 46 per cent from the same period last year. Total sales for August were also up 139 per cent on August 2019. This recent performance is testament to our wider strategy of product innovation, the ingenuity and speed of our operational team and the support we have had from our partners.”
“The Pandemic has truly shown the responsiveness and entrepreneurial culture that flows through the GDK family. We agreed with our franchise partners to stay open throughout the pandemic to support key workers and our communities. We brought in COVID-19 measures to protect our teams and guests and comply with all Government advice. Precisely, we adapted well and invested in equipment and packaging in order to ensure quality food arrived at our customers’ door. This allowed us to continue to support our local communities, and we even partnered with Deliveroo and provided 30,000 meals to the hard-working NHS and frontline staff. We gained new guests trying us for the first time, and we are delighted to say, they enjoyed our food and continue to come back.”
“We primarily see ourselves as a dine-in and takeaway restaurant. While we offered guests a choice, delivery was about 25% of our business. Obviously now, with current regulations, this changed. We pride ourselves on being agile, responsive and being able to read the market. We worked hard with Deliveroo, Just Eat, and Uber Eats and we adapted our business for more delivery.”
“Now our sales have exponentially increased and the takeaway and delivery market is now 100% of what we do right now, due to dine in restrictions and protocols. We offer a click and collect through our delivery partners, and we will be launching the service through our own website in late January or early February. This will be further enhanced with the launch of the GDK app early in mid-2021.”
“The year has certainly been a steep learning curve, and it is a credit to all our teams that we stand strong today and ready for further growth. We continue to work within the government guidelines in all parts of the country and we adapt quickly in order to protect our team and our guests. We continue to monitor, ‘how we can do it better’ and we have implemented flow movement within the work environment.”
Ensuring consistent dining experience across all locations
Daniel Bunce: “There are certain bespoke items that are purchased from our nominated suppliers. Obviously, our own meats, bread, and sauces are developed by us and unique to GDK. We also have particular equipment we use in the business and again, this is bespeaking to a GDK. We have a number of ‘preferred suppliers’ and this also gives our Franchise partners preferred pricing on many items and using them is generally a cost-benefit to them.”
“We are lucky that we have a very hands-on approach to the business. This means we talk to our Franchise Partners on either a daily or weekly basis. We have a robust head office team who are out on the road every day and visiting restaurants. We probably have one of the highest headcounts per store in the industry, and that ensures that our support is always there and available.”
“We are a very open, but tight community and while we always have challenges, our franchise partners are very happy with the state of the business and the growth we continue to show year on year. Hence, they say a lot of positive things about us.”
Key to a successful restaurant franchise
Daniel Bunce: “The German Doner Kebab senior team has over 100 years combined experience in F&B and franchising. Our leadership team has been assembled from the world’s leading global food and beverage brands, bringing unrivalled experience and industry expertise in growing and developing new franchises.”
“We have a robust process in choosing our Franchise partners and provide significant operational support from our leadership. After an initial inquiry, our team meets the potential partner and take them through the process. This process is not just about us ensuring the partner is the right partner, but also, to explain what commitments are necessary from them. It is also about them finding out about us and that they think we are also right for them. As we say, it is like a marriage- two parties agreeing to spend the next 10, 20 years together.”
“From the time we sign any partner, we work with them to ensure they are ‘set for success’. We will work with them on on-site selection, design, build, and team recruitment and training. We are with them every step of the way and we do not leave their sight until their restaurant is up and running and they are capable of delivering our brand standards with their own team. It is by doing this we not only protect their interests but that of the wider GDK family.”
Daniel Bunce: “We have 52 restaurants in the UK at the start of 2021. It is intended to double the UK business through the next 12 months. We have also recently opened in North America, in Ottawa and Vancouver and our expansion will continue in both Canada and the USA. Our Swedish business continues to grow, and we have plans to enter Spain, and both Northern and Southern Ireland. It’s certainly exciting times at German Doner Kebab, we are truly transforming the fast-casual dining scene through our game-changing kebabs and we are now perfectly positioned to expand our footprint and reach more consumers across the UK and our international growth regions.”