It is part of the foodservice company’s growth strategy as it looks to reach more consumers in Atlantic Canada and eventually beyond with a growing franchising model.
Peter Nahas, Vice President of Business Development and Franchising, said the company has a total of 14 locations currently with four more under construction, bringing it up to 18 by the end of the summer and another five under development for early next year.
“Over 20 locations in the next 12 months. Certainly been growing. It’s been quite the success over the last 30 years but just in the last five or so have really been the franchise growth.”
Currently, it has eight corporate stores and six franchise stores but everything going forward will be franchise. Nahas said five locations are currently in Crombie properties with three under construction and a ninth next year.
Nahas said the relationship with Crombie began in 2014 when it opened its first location with the REIT in the Scotia Square food court in Halifax.
“Quickly thereafter we opened up our second with Crombie in Downsview Plaza in Lower Sackville and then really it just started going from there,” said Nahas.
“It’s just been a great partnership that we’ve had with them where they really have a great power centre and usually a good retail mix that we’re looking for that does well for our brand. It’s been a great recipe for us to work with Crombie where we know who is usually going to be in the mix, we know what we can expect from our landlord. I think it’s a good partnership for the long term.”
Crombie has 294 properties across Canada totaling 18.5 million square feet. Retail comprises about 15.4 million square feet of the REIT’s overall portfolio.
Andrew Watt, Vice President, Retail Leasing for Crombie, said Mezza is a great fit for Crombie’s properties.
“They generally nicely augment our existing tenants at many of our plazas which are focused on combining need space retail with food and other retail that fills gaps in the various communities that we’re in,” said Watt.
Watt does see further expansion of the relationship in the future.
“What makes them so successful is they have a really strong brand and they back it up with a great product combined with many, many years of experience,” he said. “I’ve seen them replicate this over the nine properties that they have with us.
“They’re very consistent in their branding, they’re consistent in the products that they deliver. It will be a challenge coming into markets like Ontario where you already have several similar established brands . . . but they really do own the market I would say in Atlantic Canada right now.
“Once you have a partnership like we do with Mezza and you’re able to come up with a precedent lease – they understand what our requirements are and we understand theirs – I think it’s very easy to replicate across the portfolio. We’re doing that not only with independents but we also do it with nationals as well.”
Mezza has its roots serving up fresh, authentic Lebanese food more than 30 years ago. In 1990, it began with the parents of Nahas opening the family-run business after immigrating from Lebanon to Halifax where they opened their first restaurant in the Halifax Shopping Centre food court.
“It wasn’t Mezza at the time but it was a location that we actually still have today 30 years later,” said Peter Nahas.
Today, Peter and Tony Nahas own the company. Tony is the company’s President and CEO.
“Tony and I obviously grew up in the business. Being a family-run business, your typical immigrant story where the two sons, the two daughters, the mother and the father, they all work in the business and they make it what it is. So you essentially put food on the table,” said Peter Nahas.
“While Tony and I grew up in it, we took over the business in 2012 and at the time we had three different restaurants with the family, all under different brands, all under different menus, one was fine dining, one was a food court, one was in a downtown late night pizza shop. But it was in 2012 that Tony and I decided to open up Mezza Lebanese Kitchen with the menu that you see today, with the branding. We revamped everything.
“And it blew the doors open. We did great. Sales were fantastic. We opened in a business park in Dartmouth. With the first location obviously came the second and the third and we started rebranding what our existing ones were and by essentially 2016 we had six corporate locations all under the Mezza Lebanese Kitchen brand. In 2017, we began to start franchising and had four locations franchised in basically six months. We really took an aggressive approach pretty quickly.”
Peter Nahas said the company has eventual plans to grow beyond Atlantic Canada.
“That’s always been the plan and I’ll say it’s the longer-term plan that’s turned into the short term. Where most of the Maritimes is now sold other than Newfoundland being the biggest opportunity still available in Atlantic Canada, we’ll be moving westward pretty quickly. PEI has been sold. Major markets other than Saint John, New Brunswick have all been sold and Nova Scotia is all gone.
“So for territories all that’s going to be left outside of Atlantic Canada and the Maritimes. So certainly the plan is to keep growing westward for Ontario, Alberta and everywhere in between.”
Mezza has a lengthy history of winning awards including Business of the Year with the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and Tony Nahas capturing Entrepreneur of the Year with Ernst & Young, in Hospitality and Tourism, in 2016.