BigChefs / EMEA / Interview

"We are looking for locations in Germany"

Abdurrahman Ozyavas
Abdurrahman Ozyavas

The Corona crisis has not slowed down the expansion of the successful Turkish fast-casual brand BigChefs. After opening its first location in Germany last year, the Istanbul-based company is now looking for further locations in Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg. "Those who are innovative, adaptable and drive digitalization forward will also be successful in a new era" - Abdurrahman Ozyavas, Director of International Expansion at BigChefs, is convinced of this.

At the end of May you were allowed to reopen your first German location in the Frankfurt shopping centre MyZeil after several weeks of lockdown. What has changed there due to Corona?
The biggest cutback is probably the reduction in the number of seats from 190 to just 110. In order to implement the spacing regulations, this reorganization of space allocation and capacity reduction was necessary. We have separated the entrance and exit doors. At the entrance the temperature of all guests is measured. And we record the contact information of all guests. Signs also point out the distance regulations. Disinfection dispensers on all tables additionally ensure hygiene.

One of our trademarks at BigChefs is our food and drink presentations, for example, we serve fresh flowers and homemade biscuits with hot drinks. With the new regulations we had to give that up. We also had to remove the Big Chefs' shared olive oil and pomegranate sauce from the tables and now offer single portions instead. Fortunately, we still have many USPs such as freshly baked cakes, desserts or fresh juices. To reduce the number of contacts, our menu can now be accessed via a QR code. In addition, we have updated all our checklists and checklists according to the new rules and have given the team members extensive training.

Were you able to change your business model to take-away and delivery?
Yes, we have started with the take-away and delivery service. But since our location is on the fourth floor of a shopping centre, it is quite a challenge.

What effects of the crisis on consumer behaviour are you observing in the various country markets?
In general, most consumers are behaving similarly in all markets. As long as there is no vaccine against the virus, people are worried. Fearing infection, they avoid going indoors and prefer to stay outdoors.

What is your current situation in the Turkish domestic market and in the Arab world?
The Turkish market is recovering quite quickly. Especially our locations on high streets are already achieving up to 70 percent of pre-Covid sales again. In shopping centers, the recovery is slower because the frequencies are simply lower. In the Middle East it is currently still very hot. But since people are reluctant to go indoors, we have not yet reopened some locations.

About BigChefs
With its cuisine, colourful ambience and design, the Big Chefs restaurant concept has gained a large fan base both in its home country Turkey and in the Middle East. Launched in 2007, the brand now has more than 60 locations, about 50 in Turkey and ten in the Middle East. In September 2019, the first German location opened in the Frankfurt ECE center MyZeil.
A major asset of the formula is its all-day capability: the extensive menu offers Mediterranean-inspired breakfast dishes and hearty mezze as well as pasta and burger dishes. The choice of drinks is also wide. Homemade lemonades and iced teas are available alongside selected wines and cocktails.
What measures have you taken to get out of the crisis?
On the one hand, we have received support from the governments - through tax cuts, short-time work benefits and, in Turkey, even a 10 percent subsidy for rent payments. On the other hand, we ourselves have begun to break new ground. First, we focused on external catering. To this end, we are cooperating with online platforms to enable our guests to enjoy Big Chefs in their homes. We have also digitalised our service. Guests who come to our restaurant can now order their meals online, pay online, express their wishes and requests online and even call a waiter online.

What consequences have you drawn from the crisis?
The pandemic has shown us how important it is to adapt to change as quickly as possible and to implement the essential changes for the new era quickly. We believe that companies that develop new services through innovative thinking, reach their customers through different distribution channels and best integrate digitalization into their business models will succeed in the new era. 

Have you put expansion on hold?
No, we continue to grow despite the current challenges. We have opened two new restaurants in Turkey, one in Kazakhstan, and we are about to sign several more locations. In Germany, we are still looking for new locations, starting in Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg. We also have our sights set on Eastern Europe.