French artisan bakery chain Entrée has opened its eighth café in Tbilisi, on Amaghleba Street. The company will soon be opening its ninth branch on Ateni Street as well. Two new stores will also be added in Baku, Azerbaijan amounting to five in total. The company is also testing the waters in other foreign countries.
Entrée was established in Georgia in 2008. When the management were setting up the business, co-founder and partner at Entrée Jean Michel Charles originally said that they planned to build international brand located in several countries of the world. This is the goal where the company is moving operating now already in two countries. Charles shared with The FINANCIAL the company’s plans for the future. He talked about the main distinguishing features of doing business in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
“We are moving the pastry production to a bigger place on Amaghleba Street. So we will be better positioned to work than we were before on Rustaveli. We have currently switched to bigger production. The working environment on Rustaveli had started to become too small for our production amount. We have now doubled the capacity of production. The store offers more space and better conditions for our workers. All of this will contribute to the growth of our production. At the same way we are more open to customers. We have an open-plan kitchen here. Guest can see production process This is our target, to show people what we create with natural and organic ingredients. Our new concept shows how we operate. We do not even have a window here to separate the production from the customer. Everything is transparent. One can even smell the cakes and buns being baked. This means that there is big involvement of the customer in the whole production process. This is what we wanted to experience, to show people the way we cook, the way we produce our products. Every customer of ours knows for sure that the products at Entrée are of premium quality,” said Charles.
Like in Europe, currently Georgians are quite sensitive to the quality of products they consume. In Charles’s words, modern consumers are demanding ecologically clean and healthy products. Thats why Entree is using no frozen products or chemical additives, all is prepared by natural, organic ingredients. Accordingly, from its very first days Entrée’s team was focused on offering healthy food. In this regard Entrée has only ever supplied natural ingredients, even take away packaging.
“2014 was a year of transformations for Entrée. We started operating in Baku. It was our first experience outside of the country. We opened three stores at almost the same time. There were many challenges for us on the Azerbaijani market. The first was reaching the market, understanding the character of the customer, his demands, then opening three stores and running them in the right way. It was very exciting and challenging at the same time. So we are now working on our development not only in Georgia but also in Azerbaijan. We plan to open two new stores in Baku and another one in Tbilisi, on Ateni Street, next two month. We have already started the renovation of the store in Vake. As soon as it is finished we will open our ninth store in Tbilisi. So, we are expanding in these two countries, but also looking for prospects in other neighbouring area,” Charles said.
Charles considers starting a business in Azerbaijan to be more complicated than in Georgia. As he said, the rules and tradition is a lot different in Azerbaijan. “But, we have local partners there: we share the knowledge of business and they share the knowledge of customer behaviour so that we integrate into the market smoothly, gaining good reputation and loyalty. You can find very few small international companies in Azerbaijan, as the majority of the companies are large and involved in oil and gas production, one can find very few international food companies in Baku, that is the reason Population welcomed French bakery chain Entree and is glad to have us there. Overall we are quite satisfied with our business in Azerbaijan. Adding two new stores is good proof of the success of our operation there.”
There are noticeable taste differences between Georgians and Azerbaijanis. “Azerbaijani customers are oriented on sweeter flavours. They tend to eat a lot of sweet foods. Our cakes, viennoiserie, jams and marmalades are very popular with them.”
“Entrée is a new experience for Baku. The kind of concept did not exist in Azerbaijan before. We are pioneers having only four month of operation on Local market but developing rapidly. Our fourth store will be opened in a key district of Baku, Torgovaya Street in one and half month. This is a large pedestrian and shopping area. We were very proud to find that Entrée was already popular in Baku because of the renown of Entrée Georgia. Many Azerbaijanis travel to Georgia for visits and holidays, and they come in to our stores when they are here. So, when we ran advertisements informing people about our imminent opening in Azerbaijan back during the construction process, there was an unexpected quantity of feedback from locals asking when we would open and saying that they knew of our Brand from Tbilisi. The level of awareness about us was unexpectedly high. This assured us that a good reputation and image can even cross borders,” said Charles.
Charles said, running a business in Azerbaijan has been managed with the involvement of the Georgian team at every level. “Together with French chefs, we brought Georgian staff to Baku, our people have great experience in operation, sales. They love their job and are devoted to it like to their own family.
We would never open a store in Baku without Georgians. Out local team is so knowledgeable that we have found it necessary to bring them to Baku. They have successfully brought their energy, soul and experience to Baku,” he said.
In 2014 Entrée started offering hot dishes. “We introduced a pizza and homemade pasta menu at the Leselidze branch. We also have a full menu with hot dishes, based on beef, veal, pork and chicken. As it turned out to be so successful in Tbilisi, we have also offered the hot dishes menu in Baku. We are working on our line of sweets and will soon offer a new assortment there as well. We will be increasing the list of hot dishes that we offer too,” said Charles.
Entrée has special breakfast offers. “The menu is very convenient for our guests. The culture of going out for one’s breakfast is on the rise in Georgia. When we first started in 2008 only foreigners would visit us in the morning 8:00 a.m. Currently, you will find lots of Georgians having their breakfasts or taking food away with them. They frequently joke that they do not need a kitchen at home anymore,” Charles told The FINANCIAL.