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The GDK effect: a kebab industry revolution

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CEO of GDK International, Imran Sayeed and staff at the chain's flagship Glasgow branch.

Glasgow is the cradle of a kebab concept that offers British Kebab-lovers something different. The store is located on the entrance floor of the city’s old Odeon building on Renfield Street. The Odeon was once a popular cinema in the 1930s, and is now a renowned concert venue which has hosted the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and many more. But live music is by no means the only thing that draws people to this iconic place.

Glaswegians from yellow hi-vis-clad construction workers, businessmen in ties and jackets, office staff in blouses and high heels, to hoodie-wearing students, parents and children, all come to a two-story gourmet kebab eatery, for fast food with style. At German Doner Kebab (GDK) Glasgow, the flagship branch of the international chain, work begins at 11 am sharp. The shop’s customers clamour for kebabs made with beef, chicken or both, cut from colossal spits of roasting doner meat and served in flatbread wraps, lahmacun (Turkish pizzas) or handmade bread. These kebabs’ quality is clear from the willingness of customers to wait over half an hour just to get their teeth into one. They aren’t waiting because of slow service, on the contrary, it’s because there are just too many other people there after a GDK too


We sat down with GDK’s Global CEO, Imran Sayeed on the busy shop floor packed with customers to find out more about the fastest growing kebab chain in Britain.
When asked why he chose to invest in the British Kebab Industry, a crowded market with around 20,000 businesses already operating, Sayeed says there is a wide space in the sector for a variety of doner kebab concepts.


Despite the doner kebab’s reputation in Britain as the unhealthy staple of the drunk person, Mr Sayeed explained that there is a different perception in Germany. The German Doner Kebab concept, which first started in Berlin in 1989 involves serving kebabs not only with healthy, quality beef or chicken, but also includes a variety of fresh salad and homemade bread.


GDK branches offer kebabs in this style and pride themselves on their attention to detail, making sure that restaurants are always squeaky clean and opened with a contemporary design. The speedy growth of GDK, which currently has 40 UK branches, draws attention to the fact that since 2016, when it entered the British market, it has undoubtedly become one of the country’s most successful food chains, despite the great economic uncertainty of recent times.

The CEO added that they have already signed 370 franchise agreements and are aiming to get these businesses off the ground in the next three years. He says that the growth and interest they have generated is carrying the kebab up towards becoming one of the heavy weights of the fast food industry which has traditionally been dominated by burger and fried chicken chains.


Adding that his aim is to open 800 GDK stores within the next 10 years, Imran qualifies his claim in the following way: “The Kebab is a meal that has no recognition problem. We offer an authentic and high-quality product, from packaging to presentation with a modern concept with every detail in mind. 95 percent beef kebabs, bread, fries and pickles that we prepare especially for our doner kebabs … All our products are a different concept for kebab lovers. Our customers, who have become regulars since the first tasting, come from all background and income groups. On weekends, our businesses are filled with family customers. Unlike general perceptions, we offer a healthy doner. We take the utmost care to ensure that this happens in a business with the highest hygiene standards.”


GDK is owned by United Cash & Carry which is run by the Sarwar family who operate one of Scotland’s most successful business groups. Mr Sayeed said the vision and diligence of Athif Sarwar — one of the family’s younger generation of entrepreneurs — was the most important factor in branding the product. Sarwar’s trust in the product and motivating its team in this direction is the most important factor that has made the brand so successful in a short time.

A busy lunch time at GDK’s main Glasgow restaurant.

Pointing out that the majority of businesspeople applying for the franchise are entrepreneurs who are already operating in the food industry, the GDK CEO also emphasises that he offers his chain branch owners a highly profitable business model. Imran explains that GDK provides their franchisees with various kinds of assistance from product selection to personnel training, and how to pay attention to both customer satisfaction and profitability.


For Mr Sayeed, the franchise demand he has seen is the most striking indicator of the benefits that his company can offer its stakeholders. He adds that GDK offer their outlets advertising and marketing support by providing them with the potential to make big takeaway sales by cooperating with Uber Eats and Deliveroo. One of the company’s main customer bases are social media-savvy young people between the ages of 18-25, and the convenient “direct to your door” delivery option has helped improve GDK’s online presence as a modern, gourmet brand.


During our interview with Mr Sayeed, we were also joined by GDK’s Operations Director Michael Biggins and UK and Europe Managing Director Daniel Bunce, who spoke about how GDK International is now opening franchise stores in the USA, Canada and some Middle Eastern countries. They also told us how the company’s UK management team is staffed by well-experienced senior managers from leading global food and beverage franchise brands.


The CEO is optimistic about the future of GDK. He says: “We seriously believe and trust in this brand, all of our UK stores are doing unbelievably well. GDK is focused on quality, and is committed to changing people’s perception of the kebab. The fast food market is very competitive with a number of brands but GDK brings in a new shape to the kebab market by offering a quality fresh gourmet range which is also a healthy kebab.”

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