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Ontario-Based Osmow’s Expanding with Plans to be the Largest Mediterranean Fast-Casual Chain in North America: Interview

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Back in 2001, Sam Osmow had an idea to bring Mediterranean cuisine to the people of Streetsville, Ontario – a small village outside of Mississauga.

Today, Osmow’s has grown into a national brand with 127 locations by the end of March and plans to grow into the largest Mediterranean fast casual chain in North America.

Ben Osmow, CEO and Head of Franchise Operations, said the company, which was started by his father, didn’t start franchising until 2015 when it had about 13 locations “mainly run by friends, family or even very diehard customers that became our first franchisees.”

Osmow said the concept really took off and became the biggest Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, franchise in Canada because it found a way to Westernize and modernize Middle Eastern cuisine.

“So essentially taking products that would be traditional dishes back home and finding a way to Westernize them,” he said. 

Osmow’s at Mapleview Mall (Image: Osmow’s)

When it comes to expansion plans, Osmow said “the sky’s the limit.”

“We want to be the largest brand within North America, ultimately, on the Mediterranean side. There’s many franchises that have done it on burgers. There’s many franchises that have done it on subs and on pizza. But there hasn’t been a brand that’s hit home across Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, food,” he said.

“So far we’ve developed ourselves as that go-to brand in Canada with having the largest number of locations by far and over the next few years we’re hoping we can be that go-to brand across all of North America.”

On the company website, Sam Osmow describes how the family-owned and operated business began.

Image: Osmow’s in Brampton

“When I arrived in Canada from Egypt, I was determined to do whatever it took to be successful. I worked different jobs trying to make my way in this new world. I pumped gas, worked retail, but always with the desire to get back to my real passion – food,” he writes.

“Finally, I scraped enough money together to buy a sub shop in 1999, but two years later, I wasn’t seeing the success I’d hoped for. One day a customer asked me what I was having for lunch . . . Shawarma! He was captivated by the aroma and flavour of my lunch.

“My customer inspired me to close the sub shop, along with the help of my family we painted, rebranded, and opened the first Osmow’s a week later. I did whatever I could to get our local community to give Mediterranean food a try, including giving out free samples at local festivals; soon people were lining up for it.

“It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve loved every minute of this journey, and I am so happy working alongside my family everyday to bring Osmow’s to loyal customers, like you. I still love hearing your feedback and trying new ideas that our customers come up with. Thank you for being a part of our extended Osmow’s family . . . because to us, family is everything!”

Image: Osmow’s

Ben Osmow said his father worked night and day, all day, every day in that restaurant.

“I could say the rest is history but it didn’t get off to a great start to be very honest. It was something a lot of people were not familiar with shawarma and hummus. That was 20 years ago. Now shawarma has become a staple not just in Ontario but I would say in most major markets across Canada,” said Osmow. “It’s growing in popularity and it’s kind of a go-to cuisine right now in terms of trends.

“When I grew up here and went to elementary school here, I grew up on sub day and pizza day. And now we have over 30 elementary schools that order from Osmow’s for shawarma day. It’s absolutely incredible for me and that number is growing and we on-board more and more schools every few months. I’m really excited about that because that just means there’s going to be a new generation out there growing up having shawarma from a very young age and not discovering at a late age that most Canadian consumers do.”

Osmow said the brand has a multi-unit model where a franchisee is able to take multiple locations to expand the brand.

“We always look to work with great franchise partners and most of our franchises are multi-operated. We’re opening up about 30 to 40 new restaurants per year but that being said if we come across some great franchise partners, let’s say in deeper parts of Quebec, or Montreal or so on, it’s obviously something that would be a benefit for all of us,” he said.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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