Sunday, June 24, 2012

Baghdad Fast Food

An Iraqi entrepreneur has opened a burger joint in Baghdad reminiscent of the classic New York diner - a symbol of the changing face of the war-torn city.

Frank Sinatra croons from speakers and the walls of the small restaurant in the Mansour commercial district are decorated with posters of Miles Davis, James Dean and Muhammad Ali.

"Burger Joint is a quick service fast-food restaurant and the only one with a western look and feel to it," said Omar Hadi, the managing partner of VQ Investment Group, an Iraq-focused firm run by private-equity veterans and entrepreneurs based in Abu Dhabi and Baghdad.

A slew of new restaurants has opened in the same area, and many more are expected to launch in coming months as Iraq returns to something like normality with falling levels of violence and the withdrawal of the last United States troops last December.

Like many adventurous businessmen in Iraq, Mr Hadi hopes to capitalise on Baghdad's large population. He plans to open six Burger Joint restaurants in the capital before the end of the year with an investment of a "few million dollars".

"In Baghdad alone, you have a population of 8 million people with an increasing middle class, and sizeable income," he said.

VQ has also bought franchise rights through Turkey to Pizza Pizza, a Canadian company, with two restaurants already open and plans for two more this year. Mr Hadi and his investors expect to make their money back in 18 months to two years.

"Iraq is a virgin market," he said.

Burger Joint plays on nostalgia, but also uses international quality standards and cutting-edge technology. The cooks use 100 per cent Iraqi lean beef and the servers take orders using iPads.

"We are using new technology, and can see from our offices in Abu Dhabi how the orders are being made."

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