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Rami Sharaf: ‘Franchise is about passion’

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Rami Sharaf, CEO of RMA Cambodia, speaks to the Post this week at Costa Coffee in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Situated on the corner of Street 51 and 294, Costa Coffee’s first outlet in Cambodia occupies a converted villa. At the newest franchise addition to the Express Food Group, large open spaces are filled with natural light, there is a private balcony for smokers and an outdoor area for dog owners.

The man behind this new coffee movement is Rami Sharaf, the CEO of RMA Cambodia, the parent company of the Express Food Group. As CEO, he is in charge of what he calls “one of the most diverse groups in Cambodia”, dominating automotives, infrastructure, agriculture and food. Locals will no doubt have eaten at one of the Express Food Group’s many franchises, including The Pizza Company, Swensen’s Ice Creams, Dairy Queen and BBQ Chicken.

Chairman Rami Sharaf sat down with the Post’s Soo Jin Kim to talk about how its newest addition, Costa Coffee, aims to please its customers.

How long have you been thinking about bringing a coffee franchise to Cambodia?

The idea for Costa Coffee started a couple of years ago. For us it was just a matter of time before we expanded into the coffee industry – we have a pizza franchise, a chicken franchise, [and] two ice-cream franchises, so adding coffee was just a matter of time. When we thought of coffee, we wanted a brand that really differentiated [itself] and also had years of expertise. And Costa, with more than 40 years of experience, was surely the natural choice.

In the future, we are planning to open probably two or even three new outlets hopefully in 2013. First we will utilise the potential of the capital and then continue exploring the possibilities of setting up branches outside of Phnom Penh as well.

Why Costa Coffee?

Costa Coffee is the number one coffee shop in the United Kingdom, the number one in Europe, and the second largest coffee company in the world with 2,400 outlets in 30 countries. It is also a very well established brand, ever since it was established in 1971. These factors made us decide that this was the brand that we wanted to grow and establish in Cambodia.
 
What is the market like for coffee shops in Cambodia?

The market is ready and getting more mature. More people are entering into the upper-middle class [and] are affording and ready to pay for quality. I think that lately in Phnom Penh, [having coffee] is becoming something more than just that – it’s becoming a lifestyle.  

The younger generation also want a place to hang out in a relaxed atmosphere with quality coffee and snacks, at the same time still be connected to their social media, if they want. This is exactly what Costa Coffee provides.

How will it compare to other coffee shops that serve Italian blends?

Being a franchise is a big deal with strict, firm rules that the franchisee should follow religiously. The franchise is also about passion – you shouldn’t just believe in the franchise, you should be passionate about it. It’s not just [about] the sign, saying we offer this or that type of coffee. We always say that in the food business, if you don’t have a passionate team, the customers will not enjoy the taste.

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