The Richard Lackey legacy

Industry legend's wise words from 35 years in restaurant development
Lackey praises Yo! Sushi, a British restaurant chain that is making its mark on the global scene.
Lackey praises Yo! Sushi, a British restaurant chain that is making its mark on the global scene.
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With 35 years of international restaurant development behind him, there’s no one better than Richard Lackey to explain how the Middle East fits into the global scene

He may live 12,600 kilometres away from the UAE, but that hasn’t stopped restaurant real estate and franchise expert Richard Lackey spotting fine business opportunities over here.


Partnering with Aidan Keane, founder of restaurant design agency Keane Brands, they launched Global Restaurant Partners (GRP) last year. The aim of the new company was to create an international restaurant partnership with a specific focus on the Middle East.

With over 5,000 restaurant chains in their combined database, including Yo! Sushi, Trader Vic’s and Silver Diner, Lackey is confident the new business will do well, and that experience will give them the edge.

After working as a real estate officer, Lackey made the move into restaurant real estate and franchising in 1983 when he founded the Lackey Companies in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since then he has also founded the Council of International Restaurant Real Estate Brokers, International Restaurant Partnerships (IRP) and, in the last year, GRP.

Lackey knows too well the business potential the Middle East can offer restaurant operators but, in his current venture, is looking for homegrown brands to export, too.

“In GRP our focus is on the Middle East; we are looking to help anyone anywhere in the world who is seeking to expand, and match them up with partners here; likewise, we want to assist restaurants who are operating only in the Middle East and are seeking to go elsewhere.

“We have been talking to Jumeirah Restaurants about The Noodle House coming to the US. Jumeirah Restaurants is an excellent example of how to grow a brand. Before The Noodle House there were no Dubai F&B brands that had been exported. Now they’re in Lebanon, Russia and Bahrain.

“I think it will do very well. Maybe one day it will even come back into the lion’s den!” says Lackey, talking about exporting the Noodle House back to the place where the generic brand was invented – the US.

New opportunities
“The thing is, what you need in the Middle East are experienced operators. You need large, financially secure, developed companies. They weren’t here before, but now there are a few in the Middle East – companies like TDIC, the Alshaya Group, Global Enterprises Holding Group.

“At the moment, if you look at the big five [malls] in Dubai, they’re mainly American concepts. But we’re seeing a trend for more restaurants coming from other parts of the world – there are some huge brands around.

“Take Kyochen, for example. It has over 1000 outlets in Korea, but we’ve hardly heard of it. We’re also in talks with Italian brand La Tagliatella.”

Celebrity branding
Having worked with the head of Jamie Oliver in the past, he said it was an easy decision to help bring Jamie Oliver to the Middle East. However, Lackey says the celebrity chef name isn’t enough to make a restaurant operation profitable.

“Gordon Ramsay had a restaurant over here and look what happened to that. Jamie Oliver is more than a celebrity chef – he has developed a product that has legs. He’s done everything – sold 27 million books and created award-winning TV shows. Not many chefs have done this – they’re just a name and it’s not enough.”

So, what in Lackey’s eyes makes a restaurant a success, apart from a celeb with a product to sell? “The National Restaurant Association did a study a while back and out of a list of reasons why someone returns to the same restaurant, people chose ‘perception of value’ over things like ambiance and quality of food.

“What the Middle East is looking for is sophistication, and something unique and exciting to give that perception of value. Look at Shake Shack – it’s a gourmet product. The owner’s got a handful of restaurants in the US, and now two in the Middle East [in Dubai and Kuwait]. It shows the potential here if a concept is good.”

Lackey believes that one of the brands that has taken off in the last few years has its unique concept to thank, too. “Yo! Sushi,” he says, “made the most of its conveyor belt concept, and made its name because of it.”

Global tastes
Latin American cuisine is something Lackey predicts will become one of the fastest-growing concepts in 2012.

“I definitely think it’s going to be big – and it’s not related to a fast-growing Latin American population,” he explains. “It’s because these cuisines have so many flavours, and so many items. There’s a real choice.

“But you still need to adjust dishes for the Middle Eastern market,” he says. “It’s like when the president of Pizza Hut told me that the favourite pizza topping in the US was pepperoni, then he asked me to guess what it is in China.

I never did – it’s sweetcorn. “To work in global restaurant franchising, you have to accept that there are going to be certain strategic differences between the countries. In McDonald’s Australia you can get a burger with beetroot on it.”

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