For­eign food chains brave risks for a bite of Iran

Muscat Daily - - REGION -

Tehran, Iran - For years, Ira­ni­ans have had to put up with the likes of ‘ Mash Don­alds’ and ‘ Pizza Hat’. Now real Western food fran­chises have fi­nally ar­rived, but do­ing busi­ness in Iran is not for the faint-hearted.

De­spite strict in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions be­ing eased un­der a nu­clear deal with world pow­ers last year, the Ira­nian econ­omy re­mains bogged down by red tape and strug­gles to at­tract for­eign in­vestors.

But a cou­ple of Euro­pean food fran­chises have de­cided the risks are worth tak­ing for a taste of the es­ti­mated US$7bn Ira­ni­ans spend in restau­rants each year, and which lo­cal con­sul­tancy ILIA says will dou­ble in the next decade.

Spain’s Telepizza opened its first out­let this month through an Ira­nian con­sor­tium that plans to pump € 100mn into ex­pand­ing na­tion­wide. But one of the first Euro­peans to re­ally get his hands dirty on the ground is French en­trepreneur Amaury de la Serre (41), who bought the rights to launch Sushi Shop in Iran af­ter fall­ing in love with the coun­try dur­ing a visit in 2013.

The first branch of the high­end French chain opened last week in a chic north Tehran neigh­bour­hood, mark­ing the cul­mi­na­tion of a bruis­ing 18 months of work. “There’s a strong gov­ern­ment will to bring for­eign cap­i­tal and know-how here, but at the day-to-day ad­min­is­tra­tive level, it’s hell,” de la Serre said.

”Ev­ery­thing takes time, ev­ery­thing is com­pli­cated. It is very, very dif­fi­cult to deal with cus­toms,” he said. “But no pain, no gain. And things are chang­ing at full-speed here. I love this coun­try and I’m very ex­cited to be a spec­ta­tor to its evo­lu­tion.”

Get­ting the sup­ply chains run­ning was cer­tainly com­plex - the restau­rant uses 150 mostly lo­cal sup­pli­ers and must ship fresh fish from Nor­way three times a week.

It took a year just to get the li- cence to im­port Ja­panese sauces, and nav­i­gat­ing Tehran’s no­to­ri­ous real es­tate rack­ets was a saga in it­self. The gov­ern­ment says it is try­ing to stream­line its bu­reau­cracy, but Iran ac­tu­ally fell three places in this year’s ease of do­ing busi­ness rank­ings from the World Bank, down to 120 out of 190 coun­tries.

Still, some of the big­gest headaches are back in Europe, where banks are so afraid of US penal­ties that they freeze ac­counts at the mer­est whiff of a link to Iran. “It’s crazy. We went to the French Min­istry of Econ­omy and they gave us a list of all the banks that would agree to work with Iran. But when we called them, every sin­gle one said no,” said de la Serre.

Even­tu­ally he found a small pri­vate bank willing to han­dle his trans­ac­tions be­cause they have no links to the US.

But while he re­mains bullish on Iran’s eco­nomic prospects, there are enough storm clouds on the hori­zon to keep him cau­tious. “We wanted to launch sev­eral brands at once, but then Mr [Don­ald] Trump ar­rived so we’re tak­ing the foot off the pedal a lit­tle,” said de la Serre.

The US Pres­i­dent has wor­ried would-be in­vestors in Iran with his ag­gres­sive stance against the coun­try. Just this week, he an­nounced new sanc­tions over Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gramme and what it called Tehran’s sup­port for ter­ror­ist groups in the Mid­dle East.


Ira­ni­ans are served sushi at a high-end French restau­rant chain in north­ern Tehran on Sun­day

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