Walid Hajj, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lavoya Group which has brands such as Joe & The Juice, Dave’s Hot Chicken and Barbar.

Regarded as one of the most recognized F&B leaders in the region, the company’s name and mission is based on the ‘Food For Thought’ slogan that signifies optimism, momentum and positive experiences.

In 2021, Lavoya signed and is getting geared up to launch amazing new restaurant franchise brands in the region including the famous Joe & the Juice, the US chicken brand, Dave’s Hot Chicken, and the 45 year old Lebanese street food brand, Barbar.

Known for their experiential dining in premium locations of GCC, the brand is results-focused and the partner of choice for international restaurant franchises in the region.

To delve into his journey as CEO, Emirates Woman spoke to Hajj to understand how it all began.

Talk us through your career.

My career began in 1991 with a role as Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble, where I gained invaluable marketing and brand management experience. I then served as Vice President of Operations for my family’s business – the United Group in Saudi Arabia – furnishing me with further insights into various aspects of business, particularly on the operations side. In 2001, I founded Cravia, a leading food and hospitality group in the Middle East. We introduced to the region renowned franchises such as Zaatar W Zeit, Five Guys, Cinnabon, and Seattle’s Best Coffee, growing to more than 100 franchised restaurants across multiple countries. In 2016, I stepped down as the Founder after a majority stake acquisition by Fajr Capital. Following this, in 2020 I co-founded Kitch and Lavoya – Kitch focuses on delivery-driven cloud kitchens and premium store-front operations. Lavoya is a hospitality group that focuses on bringing restaurant franchises to the region and, so far, has driven the arrivals of Joe & The Juice, Dave’s Hot Chicken, and Barbar.

Joe & The Juice

You are CEO of Lavoya Group – tell us more about your role.

As CEO of Lavoya Restaurants Group, my role is centred around achieving our vision of being customer-focused, results-driven, and ultimately the partner of choice for international restaurant franchises in the region. This vision guides our strategic decision-making and our dedication to creating exceptional F&B experiences. My responsibilities are diverse, ranging from selecting and negotiating with brands to ensuring operational excellence. I play a pivotal role in defining the company’s strategy and overseeing its growth in a competitive industry. One distinctive aspect of my leadership style is the emphasis on building a culture where team members are seen as partners rather than just employees. We involve our team in daily operational decisions and align them with our company’s vision and corporate values. Our commitment to growth is unwavering, and I actively seek out international franchises to expand our portfolio within the UAE as well as into new markets. Lavoya believes in offering unique dining experiences, rather than merely collecting brands, and we are dedicated to providing ‘Food for Thought’ in our restaurants.

Joe & The Juice has multiple branches across the UAE. How do you ensure that the standards are maintained throughout?

Ensuring consistent standards across multiple branches is a top priority for us at Lavoya Group. Joe & the Juice is celebrating its one-year anniversary in the UAE this September yet already has eight branches spread across the country and the 9th will be opening soon. This past year has been a journey of growth and we are dedicated to maintaining consistent standards. As we celebrate this achievement, we look forward to further expansion during Q4 of 2023 and 2024. Our goal is to bring the Joe & the Juice experience to even more locations in the UAE, extending our reach and continuing to offer the same high-quality service and menu offerings our customers have come to love. We achieve this by implementing a multifaceted approach that revolves around maintaining rigorous training programmes, conducting regular site visits, actively listening to consumer feedback, and staying adaptable to changing industry trends. Our staff undergo comprehensive training to ensure they are well-versed in our brand’s values and service standards, which help ensure uniformity in customer experience. Additionally, I personally conduct frequent site visits to assess operations and service quality, reinforcing our commitment to maintaining high standards. Customer feedback plays a pivotal role in our strategy, enabling us to adapt our offerings and services to meet evolving needs and expectations.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

If I were to offer advice to my younger self, it would be to always believe in yourself and never be afraid to fail. In the journey of entrepreneurship and in life, failures often serve as the most valuable lessons. They provide opportunities for growth, learning, and resilience. Embrace challenges and setbacks as steppingstones toward success and have the confidence to pursue your vision even in the face of uncertainty. Remember that it’s through these experiences, both successes and failures, that you truly discover your potential.

Cult LA fried chicken brand Dave’s Hot Chicken has arrived in Dubai – talk to us about the concept.

As you say, Dave’s Hot Chicken is a cult-favourite; a fried chicken brand from Los Angeles known for its Drake-backed roots and having established a dedicated following since its Hollywood debut. The concept is all about satisfying fried chicken aficionados. I’m delighted to announce our third Dubai location will be at Dubai Mall, following the success of our first two branches in Motor City and JBR. Dave’s Hot Chicken is quickly becoming a local favourite, thanks to its commitment to quality, diverse spice options, and prime locations. Lavoya Group’s expansion of Dave’s Hot Chicken reinforces our reputation for introducing innovative dining concepts and then expanding them regionally to increase customer accessibility and commercial growth.


What’s one of the main challenges you’ve had as an entrepreneur and how have you overcome this?

One of the main challenges I’ve faced as an entrepreneur is the need to adapt to the ever-evolving consumer preferences and industry trends. This industry is highly competitive, and staying ahead requires staying attuned to changing tastes, health consciousness, sustainability concerns, and emerging technologies. To overcome this challenge, I’ve adopted a proactive approach. Firstly, I prioritize continuous market research and analysis to stay ahead of trends and consumer behavior. This allows us to make informed decisions in terms of menu offerings, service enhancements, and sustainability initiatives. Secondly, I encourage a culture of innovation within the organization – we constantly seek ways to differentiate ourselves by introducing new products and experiences that resonate with our target audience. Lastly, I foster strong partnerships with global brands and keep an open line of communication with our customers. Their feedback and preferences are invaluable in shaping our strategies and adapting to changing demands. By actively engaging with our stakeholders, we ensure that we not only meet but exceed their expectations. By embracing these principles, we continue to thrive and evolve in a highly competitive landscape.

How has the UAE’s F&B scene evolved over the years?

The evolution of the UAE’s F&B scene has been remarkable, reflecting a broader global shift towards a more interconnected economy. What’s particularly striking is the country’s ability to consistently attract and accommodate top international brands. This trend has seen almost every major global player establishing a presence in the UAE, including of course the brands under Lavoya’s portfolio. The fact these renowned brands have chosen to set up shop here underscores the country’s status as a global hotspot for F&B. From my perspective, as someone deeply involved in the F&B industry, this evolution is both exciting and challenging. It’s exciting because it offers a wealth of opportunities to introduce innovative concepts and unique dining experiences to a diverse consumer base. At the same time, it’s challenging because the bar for excellence has been set exceptionally high. Competition is fierce, and consumers have come to expect nothing less than world-class quality and service – which is what we aim to provide at Joe & The Juice, Dave’s Hot Chicken, and Barbar. In this dynamic landscape, success hinges on our ability to stay ahead of global trends, cater to evolving consumer demands, and maintain a commitment to excellence. It’s an ever-evolving journey, and I look forward to continuing to contribute to the vibrant and rapidly evolving F&B scene in the UAE.

What’s next in line for the brand?

As Lavoya Restaurant Group, our fundamental goal for 2024 is to continue increasing our portfolio presence across various GCC markets. We’ve experienced rapid growth, thanks to our dedicated team and leadership. Adapting to evolving consumer demands and staying at the forefront of the ever-changing F&B landscape is crucial to us. We pride ourselves on consistently delivering exceptional experiences to our customers. As we look ahead, our brand portfolio is poised for exciting developments and continued growth.

Joe & The Juice currently operates across eight stores in the UAE with the 9th store opening in DIFC in September and we have ambitious plans for Q4 2023 and 2024, with more store openings and new products.

Dave’s Hot Chicken is operational in JBR and Motor City, with the Dubai Mall store also opening this month. We’re experiencing success not only in the UAE, but also in Qatar and KSA. Due to this, we have ambitious expansion plans for the coming year, with the goal of establishing a significant number of new stores to introduce the crowd favourite to an even wider audience.

Barbar is our traditional Lebanese-born eatery, which has made its mark in the UAE, KSA, and Qatar. We have plans to expand its presence across the GCC in the near future, which will include opening two new branches in Saudi Arabia and one more in Abu Dhabi.

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