Enas El Masry

Every business starts from a single point of nothingness - a mere idea that slowly grows into a plan, followed by execution, observation and analysis, and plenty of trial and error. This wheel keeps turning with the sole purpose of achieving success. But what happens when you’ve summitted your own mountain?

In physics, what goes up must come down. This law is slightly different in business whereby any success you’ve achieved will inevitably decline unless you manage to keep your customers coming back for more.

This breaks down the business journey into two primary parts: reaching the top and staying on top.

In our first part of the interview with Ramez Andrea, co-founder and CEO of Burdogz, we saw how his rebellion on routine since teenage nudged him towards entrepreneurship. Many trials and tribulations have honed Ramez’s skills and expertise, preparing him for his life-long dream.

In this part, we walk a mile in Ramez’s shoe as he climbs up the hill of his own business endeavor and strives to keep it vibrant, exciting, and desirable.

Riding Uphill is Fun with the Right Company

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” writes Paolo Coelho in his book The Alchemist, accidentally but accurately describing Ramez’s overarching tale. Where he had a choice to be made, his innate desire to break free from the norm has guided him through character and skill-building experiences. But even when he had no choice, destiny still introduced him to people whose roles proved to be pivotal to his journey.

“During my conscription, I made a friend and later found out that our families go way back to our grandparents. We remained in touch even after our service was over,” says Ramez. “He was already in the business [with his family], and he was eager to grow out of the family business into his own.

“One day Michael comes up to me and says he wants to start a burger place,” fuelling Ramez’s life-long dream of being in the F&B industry. And so, Burdogz came to life in 2016.

Unlike some restaurants which build their business to serve a market gap, Burdogz was another burger joint that opened during the height of the burger trend wave in Egypt. So instead of capitalizing on a market gap, they capitalized on a gap within the particular market segment they served. Inspired by their two favorite burger joints, Five Guys and In-N-Out, Ramez and Michael advertised that at Burdogz, French fries are unlimited with any combo.

This offer was so successful that shortly after marketing for it, the partners had to fortify the seating area with more chairs from Michael’s office and would still have another 30 or 40 tables on the waiting list.

Another idea that earned Burdogz a lot of traction was offering their customers the fun and freedom of assembling their own sandwiches. Although this idea wasn’t novel, they adopted it as their main theme, however, with a twist: the sandwich price was fixed no matter how many sauces or toppings the client added.

“When I write ‘Free toppings. Free sauces.’ people get a sense of value, and we work in a value-oriented market,” says Ramez.

However, an uphill climb is never without road bumps and for Burdogz, the biggest was staffing. “Neither of us had any previous experience in F&B, so we were constantly learning from our mistakes,” says Ramez. “We kept trying different methods for hiring until we came across platforms like Wuzzuf and Forasna and they made the hiring process much easier.”

Despite Ramez’s long-standing disliking for routine, it was particularly discipline that he suffered from the most when it came to staffing. “I feel that managing a successful kitchen is very similar to the army. There’s a clear hierarchy, and everyone on the staff respects it and their place in it,” adds Ramez. “It’s very important to be willing to work within a team, to abide by the system, and to not improvise.”

With a well-rounded recipe and a clear system for the service, all they were looking for was a committed staff capable of showing up on time, following instructions, and closing the gap of what they lacked in knowledge by learning.

Other operational hiccups that they faced included marketing and advertising and stocking, which they all enhanced through a journey of trial-and-error.

However, this chapter of Burdogz’s story was bound to end when Ramez had a big accident that forced a twist of events. “I shut down the pets business as it was impossible to keep it running. I couldn’t focus on Burdogz either. Meanwhile, my managing partner was expanding his personal business and was getting married,” explains Ramez. “We were both considering selling our shares when my siblings expressed interest in buying my partner’s shares and running the business until I got back on my feet.”

And so, in May 2019, Burdogz became a family business run by Ramez and his twin siblings Asser and Nada.

Staying Afloat Even When Life Rocks Your Boat

“Having my siblings as partners made a huge difference because unlike me, they are academically achieved,” says Ramez proudly. “They helped me mature the business and make the practices more professional from the finance, marketing, and staffing sides. Their input was vital especially in regards to quality control and attention to detail.”

Within less than a year of Asser and Nada joining the Burdogz “family”, Ramez was encouraged to open the restaurant’s second branch in Heliopolis knowing that he had a team capable of carrying the load.

Nonetheless, this created a new challenge for Ramez to establish a new kind of relationship with his siblings, one that is purely professional.

“There had to be a distinction between Ramez the older brother whom we joke and have fun with and Ramez the company’s CEO who gives instructions that must be followed,” he says. “It wasn’t easy on them or me. But they’re very intelligent and they got used to this setting right away and how to keep this relationship very professional. No matter how much we disagree at work, outside, we’re friends.”

With a new enthusiastic team and operations sailing smoothly, it was high time Burdogz addressed its new goal: maintaining the success it has achieved, and Ramez had the perfect recipe for it.

“The most important thing is not to be greedy in business. It’s good to make a decent profit, but never at the expense of your food’s quality,” says Ramez explaining that many restaurants, after they have achieved great success, start skimping on quality ingredients - in other words reducing the quality to increase the profit per sold unit.

“Maintaining quality is the most important element,” explains Ramez. “You build certain expectations for your customers, and in time, these expectations should rise, not fall behind. And that’s what we do.”

The other pivotal practice for maintaining success according to Ramez is constantly staying relevant to the market by introducing new ideas and offerings without jeopardizing the brand’s identity. In Burdogz’s case, its identity is rooted in the average American diner style. Even though their brand (and brand name) was built around their staple offerings burgers and hot dogs, it was eventually time to introduce a new item to the menu, and the most suitable was wings.

“We weren’t the first to introduce it but we focused on equally promoting it alongside the burgers and hot dogs. There are even months when wings would bring in more revenue than the two other offerings,” says Ramez. “Accordingly, we decided that twice a week, customers can enjoy a buy-1-get-1-free offer on wings. This was great marketing for wings and it also promoted our popularity as one of the places that make good wings and not just good burgers.”

Despite Burdogz having been conceived at the peak of Burger Joint's popularity in Egypt, Ramez is confident that his restaurant won’t go out of demand even after the trend wave has receded.

“The market in Egypt is a highly consumerist one. We get plenty of our enjoyment from food,” he explains. “There’s always room for new trends and new ideas.”

While reality is bound by its many challenges, aspiration is bound only by the extent of one’s ability to dream. “Very soon, we’ll be introducing a pizzeria, Andre’s Pizza, which is going to serve Italian pizza with a New York vibe to it. It plays on both demands for Italian and American cuisine,” says Ramez as he elaborates on his plans for the company’s expansion into other cuisines.

“But our priority is consistency, so we are investing in a team that can help us grow with quality. We need solid operations and marketing teams before we can expand,” he adds. However, none of his big plans are likely to happen until the economic aftermath of COVID-19 has settled and the market regains some stability. Until then, they must remain conservative in their moves.

Fueled by his confidence in his team and brand, Ramez aspires to plant a Burdogz branch in every neighborhood across Cairo - and later Egypt - scaling up to 30 branches in the five upcoming years.