Zaid Ayoub is a man of many talents. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur not only manages investment funds, but he also acts as an advisor to the Jordanian Professional Diaspora Network. Here, he tells us about his role as CEO of SAJJ Mediterranean, a casual food concept.
What enticed you to move into the restaurant industry?
I always thought that there was space in the market for a professionally run, fast-casual Mediterranean food concept, where we transcend unique flavors and hospitality genres.
How did you manage to grow SAJJ Mediterranean from a single branch in 2012 to a network of several stores and food trucks?
It all boils down to hard work. We knew we had a great product and customer experience from the outset, but it was tough operationally in the beginning. A couple of years into SAJJ’s launch, we reset and reengineered the process for consistency and scale. I surrounded myself with amazing, dedicated people; I also built a progressive and transparent culture.
How has your tech background helped you in becoming an influential restaurateur?
I think coming from the tech sector gives me a unique advantage in doing things differently and exploring new products and sales channels. The integration of technology is revolutionizing the restaurant industry, and I am fortunate to be in the middle of that intersection.
With Covid-19 shaking things up, what is the role of technology in the F&B industry?
Technology plays a huge role: Covid-19 accelerated it. Food delivery apps — particularly those operated by third party companies like DoorDash and UberEats — more than doubled. Currently, several restaurants are launching their own sub brands that are dedicated exclusively to delivery. Ghost kitchens are expanding in a big way, as is the convergence between grocery stores and restaurants. There is also activity in autonomous-driving cars, delivery robots and drones. We are in the early stages of these market shifts, so it will be interesting to see how things play out post pandemic.
How do you foresee the future of restaurants post Covid-19?
I believe that convenience is key. Direct and third-party delivery platforms will continue to prosper. There will be a consolidation of virtual brands — some will succeed while others will exit the market. Ghost kitchens will play a major role in the industry, mainly for established brands to fill the gap in certain geographic areas and possibly with individual-owned operators. The direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel is the most intriguing to me; it is harder to implement but could be a game changer.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
There are always new projects. We will resume our geographic expansion and continue with menu development, like shareable mezze items, SAJJ Plates and fun “do-it-yourself” meal kits. We will also be focusing on our DTC channel, SAJJ Market.
I believe we will come out of Covid-19 stronger. I will also continue investing in promising new companies and technologies.