You crave – We deliver
In recent years the online delivery service has completely overhauled the way in which we consume food. The various platforms available make it easier than ever to have a wide variety of cuisines delivered straight to our door, and all with the single tap of a mobile phone.
While restaurants across the globe are eager to embrace the change, there is one company in the Middle East that was ahead of the curve. The brainchild of Raki Phillips and Alan Honein, Sugarmoo was launched in November 14 after the Lebanese-American duo spotted a significant gap in the market.
The food delivery business may have been booming but there was very little on offer for those with a sweet tooth. Initially the pair explored franchise opportunities as they looked to bring the online ordering of desserts to Dubai. But having been discouraged with the high costs, they decided to go out on their own.
“It was four years ago now and back then no one was delivering desserts, so we saw a very clear gap in the market,” explains Honein. “We looked around at different opportunities and in the end, it was out of sheer frustration that we came up with our own concept.
“We knew we wanted to be a market leader and hence our slogan, ‘you crave, we deliver’ was born. And we always knew that we wanted to deliver as even back in 2014 the delivery business was a $700 million industry, yet none of that was in desserts.
“It was four years ago now and back then no one was delivering desserts, so we saw a very clear gap in the market”
“Now the same industry is worth around $1.4 billion, and we were the first in the region to provide desserts. We also trained up our own fleet of drivers, so we were ahead of the curve.”
The idea was a complete change in pace for the duo who had previously launched a night club in DIFC and organised concerts with some of the most renowned DJs in the world. Yet both had previous experience in the world of food and beverage, and quickly discovered that there was demand for their new concept.
However, starting a business from scratch is never simple and there were major hurdles that needed to be overcome. Especially when the focus of the business was online, a place where a company’s reputation can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.
“There was a lot going on behind the scenes before we even got up and running,” says Honein. “It took us several months to make sure we had the right logo and that our drivers were properly trained as we soon realised it would be a major challenge to transport the desserts.
“We needed the right packaging and we needed to make sure that when the dessert arrived it was actually in one piece. So we had to invest and do the proper training. Still in the early days we spent plenty of time writing apologies and sending out free samples to anyone who complained, but we soon solved these issues and it rarely ever happens anymore.”
While the idea of delivering desserts may have been new, the Sugarmoo founders knew that there was still a lot of competition when it came to sweets and pastries. The market in the UAE is overloaded with cupcakes and traditional Arabic sweets, with dozens of stores dedicated to their production.
Alan and Raki knew that they needed to differentiate themselves and that meant hiring a forward-thinking team who were prepared to think outside of the box and create innovative and tasty products.
“I had worked in F&B at the Venetian Hotel in Arizona and Raki has 15 years’ worth of experience in hotels, but neither of us were chefs or bakers so it took quite a bit of trial and error in the beginning before we found a great pastry chef who is still with us today,” says Honein.
“We wanted to make hybrid desserts and something that just looked completely different. Straight away we wanted people to be able to customise the cakes so there wouldn’t be anything else like it out there.
“Also we weren’t afraid to experiment and mix both Middle Eastern and Western flavours. Our team is very creative, and the desserts are constantly evolving so we never have a static menu.
“Normally ordering a cake you would have to do that at least 24 hours in advance. We do anything from our menu in under 90 minutes”
“The kitchen team are so quick on their feet and they love the challenge of coming up with new recipes. It means they are that much more engaged and feel free to give their opinions. It’s a really creative outlet for them.”
Besides the standard menu that has an array of decadent items that include cookies, cakes and individual desserts, there are also healthy alternatives and the option for customers to make something truly unique.
Since opening Sugarmoo has made a seven-foot multi-level tier tower cake for a wedding, a 13kg cake designed like a chess board and even combined fudge rich chocolate cake with fresh slightly salted potato chips sandwich in between the sponges for a prominent Emirati wedding.
Essentially, whatever delights their audience can imagine, the talented team at Sugarmoo will deliver. And if your taste buds are craving a red velvet Oreo cookie or a simple chocolate cake from the menu, then it will be delivered in extra quick time.
“Normally ordering a cake you would have to do that at least 24 hours in advance. We do anything from our menu in under 90 minutes, that is our edge,” continues Honein. “Even with most of the elaborate orders, we can normally do it within 24-48 hours.”
Now Sugarmoo are looking to expand their enterprise and are already in discussions to open franchises across the emirates and in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
However, it is unlikely that will ever become a traditional bakery and open stores. The founders firmly believe their success is due to their online service and are working hard to further improve their reach.
“We are very focused on technology and apps and we are in the process of creating out third app,” says Honein. “If you have a user-friendly app you will improve the number of orders, but at the same time we are on all the other platforms as that is great in helping us get our name out there.
“We never had intentions of opening a store and that hasn’t really changed. We do now have what we call dessert labs in several outlets, but these act more like delivery hubs and only really showcase what we can do.
“Instead we prefer to focus on the online community and we like to engage with our audience. We don’t want to be viewed as a standoffish brand, so we like to know our customers and if we know their birthday is coming up with will send them a cake. It’s great to have that link to your audience.”
Having identified a gap in the market, Sugarmoo are now leading the way when it comes to delicious desserts. The team are working hard to offer healthier options as the Middle East becomes more health conscious and there are alternatives for those with intolerances.
But in large they know that they will always thrive thanks to people’s demand for indulgence. And that is true for almost any region of the world, not just in the Gulf.
“We have done a lot of research and no one out there does what we do,” adds Honein. “So hopefully we will be in Saudi this year and then we will explore lots of other markets.
“We will always have the core items, but wherever we go we will always allow people to customise and order the flavours they enjoy.”
Words by: Adrian Back