Few things in life are as good as a freshly brewed espresso shared with friends or family in an uplifting atmosphere. At least, that’s the stance dr.CAFE COFFEE Founder and CEO Yousef S. Al Rajhi takes.
Yousef has always had a passion for the aromatic beverage, but it wasn’t until he travelled to Europe that his love affair for the true coffee drinking experience took off. Here, he observed the warmth between friends that was generated over a cup – or few – in each charming cafe.
It was a culture he knew he had to re-create back home on the Arabian Peninsula. “In the late 90s, there were no real coffee houses in the market. There were lots of cafes, which not only served coffee but also meals; breakfast, lunch and even dinner,” he explains.
“But the major sensations and aroma were missing from these locations. I yearned for a special spot to enjoy my coffee like I experienced in Paris and Italy. The personal connection between the espresso cup and the daily routine was totally missing in our region.”
However, it wasn’t always that way. Through research, Yousef learned that cafe culture in the Middle East surprisingly dated back to ancient times. That’s when he realised that he wasn’t creating something new; he was simply bringing the age-old tradition back to life for a whole new generation of coffee aficionados.
In 1997, Yousef opened his first dr.CAFE in a little kiosk at a mall. “I started this cafe as a passion and love for coffee,” he shares. “It was developed with all the nuances of a cafe – no detail was overlooked. We researched everything from the equipment to the tools and methods, and even considered the best seating ergonomics so guests could better enjoy their coffee.”
His attention to detail certainly paid off; the cafe was a huge success. While Yousef initially didn’t intend to expand the business, he soon reconsidered. Now, dr.CAFE is a beloved international success.
Set to skyrocket
dr.CAFE has come a long way from its humble roots in that mall kiosk. Currently, the brand has 650 branches throughout the Middle East as well as the Asia–Pacific markets. By 2030, Yousef hopes to make that number skyrocket to 32,933 franchises. By continually achieving each of his three pillars of success, Yousef is confident that dr.CAFE will meet this target.
dr.CAFÉ Coffee Founder and CEO Yousef S. Al Rajhi offers five tips for entrepreneurial success:
1. Follow your passion and invest in it.
2. Read more, travel more and create an understanding that your core business your number one hobby.
3. Build a quality team – they are your real business partner.
4. Keep building a system.
5. Always give back to society, and don’t let your accountant control your relationship with your consumers and the community.
“We define our success in clear fundamentals – the coffee itself, the people, and the system,” he says. “We never compromise the coffee, source, process, roast profile, brewing methods or the customer taste preference. By understanding the parameters, we never stop at one level. We are always searching for ways in which to improve.”
We procure 100% Arabica specialty coffee from the best origin and the best farms in the world who also use best practices, following the rules and guidelines set by the global specialty community.
Whether that’s improving partnerships, roasting processes or upgrading the customer experience at each store, Yousef continually looks to evolve and make adjustments as necessary. At the same time, he believes these improvements could never take hold without first taking care of the business and most importantly, its people.
“People in any business is a major factor, and the most important formula for success is to build your own recipe,” he explains. “You do this by selecting the right people and giving them the right goals and objectives to create an environment where they can win. At dr.CAFE, we really care about the people – the way we select them, develop them, take care of them and work with them.”
Yousef credits the third pillar of success as a non-negotiable. “The system is a very important parameter,” he stresses. “From day one, we never compromised the system. It’s a great foundation for any organisation, and it’s not only an operation manual, it’s also the resources that are built when you establish your company.
“System development is a continuous daily process, which is incredibly focused. We build and enhance our program in all aspects, starting from procedures to automation and methods to expert evaluation. It’s a very important method – maintain success; add great value to the work environment for the team to enjoy; and get the same high-quality result in the shortest amount of time at lower costs.”
It’s not easy to source green beans and serve the best coffee in the world, but it’s a commitment by which dr.CAFE proudly stands. The popular franchise promises to use only the highest quality Arabica beans with a rich and balanced flavour and an aroma that’s refreshing and tantalising.
“We procure 100% Arabica specialty coffee from the best origin and the best farms in the world who also use best practices, following the rules and guidelines set by the global specialty community,” Yousef shares.
“This is checked and monitored regularly by our quality controller and in-house Q grader. “We schedule regular visits to our coffee origin farms around the world to maintain the highest quality standard and to build a better relationship with our farmers. To offer variety and the best quality, we also procure micro-lot beans from different origins.”
Coffee beans from different areas create various flavour profiles. Information about where the beans grew, such as the location’s altitude and weather, is crucial to knowing how to properly process the beans. “Knowing the geographical description of the various farms helps us understand how to process the beans better,” Yousef explains.
“For example, this information helps us decide if the cherry is likely to be good quality or not. Also, the milling time for the different processes – natural, washed, honey – have a high influence on the final result of the coffee beans. Our team closely monitors this process to make sure we reach perfection in our products and services.”
Finally, saving the best for last, is the roasting process. “This is when the flavours are developed. It’s the most important part of the process in creating a high-quality cup of coffee,” Yousef says.
“To determine the quality, we select our coffee on the predominant notes – fruit, floral, cocoa and nutty, sweet and spice. Our quality control team follow up with each of the notes and check the moisture level and water activity inside the beans. This determines how long the quality of the bean can be conserved and what roasting practices we should follow.
“The main objective is to maintain what we promised and guarantee the availability of a favourite blend or roast specification to dr.CAFE lovers.” However, none of it would be possible without dr.CAFE’s key farmer partnerships.
The trust and bond created through the years with our farmer partners translates to excellence in every cup.
“Quality assurance and transparency are key in these lifelong partnerships,” Yousef shares. “The trust and bond created through the years with our farmer partners translates to excellence in every cup.”
Every great story has a beginning, middle and end. In the coffee industry, that story is told in waves, describing the cultural growth of the coffee scene. The first wave dates back to the 1800s when entrepreneurs saw a market for providing coffee that was both affordable and easy to make.
This is when brands like Folgers and Maxwell House became household names. Even though this mass-produced coffee received criticism for its taste and quality – or, lack thereof – its convenience helped propel the industry into the future.
As consumers matured, they demanded far better tasting brews and wanted to know more about the coffee they were drinking. In this second wave, they were keen to know its origins and understand different roasting styles.
The enjoyment of coffee became more experiential and this gave rise to specialty coffee beans and a new vernacular; words like espresso, latte and French press became common. Unsurprisingly, this is when coffee shops became big business and drinking coffee evolved into a social experience.
More and more consumers shifted from making their cup of joe at home to making it a social experience with friends and family at their favourite cafes. In 2002, the third wave of coffee’s popularity hit and, this time, it triggered an emphasis on transparency within the industry.
Savvy consumers now want to know the entire story behind their brew’s journey from seed to cup. “Moving from the second wave to the third wave has been a major change in our industry,” Yousef says.
“A coffee renaissance has emerged where the quality of beans from specific farms and harvesting practices up to the roasting is significantly highlighted and desired. Coffee drinkers have become more aware of bean characteristics, taste profiles and brew methods used.”
Nothing can inspire me more than a quality cup of coffee.
With this new trend came a new experience of product sophistication and variety as dr.CAFE began using an artisan-like approach, diverting its focus from mass supply to diverse micro-lot farms. “Micro-lots have opened an exceptional range of flavours to our valued customers,” Yousef says.
“We now offer this week after week with our private blends. In the ever-changing landscape of the coffee industry, the decision is simply about our history, reputation and individual aspect of each bean’s seed-to-cup process. Together with the serious improvement of equipment and brewing methods, it’s become easier for us to create great value for our coffee lovers.”
With the popularisation of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, aesthetics matter more than ever and it’s become increasingly vital for businesses to put their best face forward. Enter, latte art.
“The spirit and passion poured into latte art makes the shot of espresso a serious matter rather than a secondary task,” Yousef suggests. “That being said, the parameters of a great cup of coffee have never changed and I don’t believe they ever will.
“Maintaining those parameters and always moving the quality up to the next level are the only prerequisites by which we abide. The relation between coffee and friends, family, reading, business and joy have always been the same.”
To level up these experiences in each dr.CAFE store, the company implemented what it calls the Ultimate Place Experience. This guarantees maximum personal satisfaction by creating a complete, five-sense experience in every cafe.
From a well-structured layout, to the decor’s rich colour palette and artsy wall graphics, each branch adds a unique thread to the colourful tapestry that is the dr.CAFE brand.
The quality conundrum
Currently navigating the fourth wave, which emphasises sustainability and locally sourced coffee, the industry is now facing a kind of conundrum. “In the last two years, the sector has seen a swinging momentum where there’s confusion between a quality cup of coffee and an ‘Instagrammable’ one,” Yousef says.
“Nowadays, most of the new trendy and youthful cafes are short-term businesses.” Despite concerns over the market becoming overly saturated, the coffee sector continues to boom. In fact, it’s estimated that two billion cups are consumed globally every day. But according to Yousef, they’re not necessarily cups of good coffee.
“The industry has become diluted with many brands that aren’t serious about a perfect cup of coffee,” he says. “This has a negative impact on consumers’ taste profiles, which they believe to be set by quality standards. The industry should be educating consumers between a good cup of coffee and a bad one.”
This is why Yousef is so passionate about investing in the staff at dr.CAFE; by doing things the right way from the very beginning, from the sourcing of the beans to their roasting, and to the hiring of passionate team members, dr.CAFE ensures its success into the future.
“Seeing joy from people gathering in a place where we worked hard to create uniqueness by balancing the five senses is what drives us,” he says. “Nothing can inspire me more than a quality cup of coffee.”
Business or passion
Yousef comes from a family of traders and businessmen. He’s currently a member of the Board of Directors of Al Watania for Industries and the Chairman of the Executive Committee; Chairman of Yousef Al Rajhi Global; Member of the Board of Directors of MEFIC Capital and the Investment Committee; Member of the Board of Directors of Al Rajhi Endowment Foundation and Member of the Investment Comittee.
Yousef is also a Managing Director of various companies and Chairman for multiple international companies. While he’s actively involved in a number of businesses, Yousef considers dr.CAFE his passion.
“I schedule my week between my different businesses and I dedicate two days per week to dr.CAFE,” he shares. “It’s been over two decades and I’m still not able to conclude whether these two days are part of my business schedule or if they’re more of my rejuvenation period, discussing coffee development.
“When an individual has chosen their passion for work, it never becomes a monotonous part of life. For me, coffee is the centrifugal part of my life, and it’s always been an enchanting period of my day.”
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