In just a few months, I will mark our 30th anniversary of selling the first Felix & Norton cookie. And now we will celebrate that anniversary in style- by opening our first store outside of Canada after all these years, in the Al Ain Mall in the city of Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.
So how did it happen that I went from being the Cookieman of Montreal to become Lawrence of Macadamia? In this blog, I will share some of the backstories of the trials and tribulations that we have gone through in the past 30 years, while updating you regularly on the unfolding events and experiences as we travel to the UAE to assist our new associates in the opening of the first of what we hope will be many F&N locations in the Arabian Gulf countries.
So many questions to answer and so many stories to tell. First of all, why the UAE? Over the years, I have been contacted an average of a couple of times per month by people from every corner of the planet who have inquired about the possibility of opening a Felix & Norton shop in their home city. The most frequent requests have been from France, Lebanon, Florida, Japan, and the UAE, and there is a list of at least 50 countries that have sent requests to us. Sometimes the discussions went very far, sometimes there was nothing to say beyond the original request. What all the requests received had in common was that the individuals wanted to open one store, and if things went well they would continue to invest and grow the business. That meant that all the costs at both ends of getting started would have to be covered by the first location, and this just wasn't feasible. Legal costs alone were enough to break most deals.
Then along came Swaidan Alkendi, a businessman of about 40, from the city of Al Ain, less than an hour from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the two largest and best known cities in the UAE. A business associate of his had studied and obtained an MBA at Concordia University in Montreal, and was seduced by Felix & Norton cookies while in Montreal. They approached me in March 2013, and we had a long initial chat on Skype during which I told them all the reasons why I was not enthusiastic about the possibility of growing with them. Instead of pushing me to reconsider, they simply asked for some time to prepare a detailed business plan so that I could better understand the opportunity and how they saw it coming to fruition. I didn't hear back for a long while and assumed that the project had been shelved, like the many predecessors. About two and half months after that initial contact, I received an e-mail containing a 50 page highly detailed business plan, that explained the economy, the market, the competition, and detailed the plan and the investment that they were prepared to make. Many conversations on Skype and a few visits to Montreal ensued. We got to know each other better and better, and realized that there was a commonality in our goals and values despite being from opposite ends of the world and from very different cultural backgrounds. And Swaidan was totally convinced that there was nothing that could compare with a Felix & Norton cookie available anywhere in the UAE or even anywhere else in the world which he has crisscrossed many times in his life.
On January 15, 2015, cookie history will be made at the opening of our first location outside of Canada. I hope they are ready to experience euphoria! (who isn't?)