26/08/2010 - 00:00

Gelare success shows waffle works

26/08/2010 - 00:00

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One of the state’s tastiest franchises has set its sights on the global market. Russell Quinn reports.

Gelare success shows waffle works

THE founder of international cafe franchise Gelare is planning to re-enter the US hospitality market, the unofficial birthplace of this ever-expanding coffee, ice-cream and waffles empire.

Targeting the US is part of Gelare’s ambitious growth plan to double the business’s worldwide footprint in the next decade, although Asia, Australia and the Middle East will be the immediate conduit for the proposed increase.

Currently there are 17 stores in Perth, one in Melbourne (with two more starting by April 2011) and another to open in Brisbane’s South Bank next month.

Gelare, which boasts annual sales of $20 million and employs almost 200 people locally, also has seven franchise stores in Singapore, nine in Indonesia, two in Hong Kong and one each in Malaysia (which opened last month) and Beijing. Another outlet will soon begin trading in Guangzhou, the largest city in one of China’s wealthiest provinces.

Iranian-born Gelare International founder and director, Farid Torabi, operates three company owned outlets in the Garden City, Westfield Innaloo and Karrinyup shopping centres.

The global appetite for the Gelare waffles and ice-cream cafe concept started from a little-known operation in southern California.

Mr Torabi says he lived in the US for about 12 years during the 1970s and 1980s, working as a mechanical engineer in Los Angeles after gaining his degree from the University of Arkansas.

He relocated to Australia in 1985 and settled in Perth largely because of the comparable climates between the two states.

Considering most engineering work in WA at the time required relocation to mining and resources projects in the state’s north-west, Mr Torabi sought out an alternative career before heading down under.

“My desire to stay in WA was greater than my desire to continue working in engineering,” he says.

Before leaving California he bought an ice cream parlour business called Gelare, which had a couple of outlets in California, from an acquaintance who was winding up the business.

For a nominal fee Mr Torabi says he bought the naming rights and some basic manufacturing techniques in order to bring Gelare to Perth.

However, he made a strategic decision to dismiss Gelare’s ice-cream parlour structure.

“I never liked the name ‘parlour’, and never wanted to make an ice-cream parlour,” Mr Torabi says.

“So I developed the Gelare concept into a cafe with coffee, ice-cream and waffles.

“It’s all about high quality, and there’s no hesitation for the highest quality.”

In January 1987, Mr Torabi opened his first Gelare in Fremantle, which was a great success on the back of the America’s Cup.

“We were the first to have freshly baked waffles, although some copies came later but they didn’t have the proper techniques,” he says.

Company owned stores were established in Claremont (1989) and Northbridge (1992) before the success of the first Gelare franchise in Bunbury in 1993 led the existing Fremantle operation to be franchised in 1994.

Subiaco and Joondalup franchises followed before Gelare went international, opening in Singapore in 1997.

Mr Torabi recalls being advised by Australia’s franchising aficionados in the mid-1990s to initially expand his franchises nationally, targeting the east coast, and then experiment with the New Zealand market before considering other international markets.

“But I went overseas first and then looked to the rest of Australia,” he says. “I broke the franchising mould.”

Facing high production costs with local flour producers and both Masters and Brownes dairies, Mr Torabi also broke the mould in terms of suppliers, developing valuable relationships over the past two decades with ice-cream makers (who are also dairy farmers) and flour producers in the US that produce Gelare’s all natural ingredient ice-cream and flour to make the waffles and cones.

Since 1992, an ice-cream manufacturer in Oregon has exclusively provided Mr Torabi with 0 per cent overrun ice-cream for Gelare outlets worldwide.

Overrun is the term given for the air content in ice-cream as the tasty product is sold by volume and not weight; according to Mr Torabi the lower the overrun, the better the taste.

About 300 tonnes of ice-cream and 160t of flour are imported into Australia each year, with the same amount going to the Asian outlets.

These numbers will rise as both Singapore and Malaysia establish 14 more Gelare outlets over the next five years, while Americans will be delicately reintroduced to Gelare next decade.

“That will be the ultimate,” Mr Torabi says.

“It’s what globalisation is all about.”

 

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