Sam Nazarian’s food empire is expanding to Saudi Arabia through a joint venture, valued at $100 million, with global investment group WK Holding.
Through a deployment of close to $200 million, C3 — which operates restaurants, culinary centers, ghost kitchens and a mobile delivery service — plans to open 500 locations in the region over the next five years, Nazarian told The Real Deal.
“I think this [joint venture] is a pretty big one for all the obvious reasons,” Nazarian said “But more importantly, moving these brands into the region is going to be super exciting for not only our business, but hopefully we’ll be a catalyst for more brands coming to the region.”
The expansion was inspired by Nazarian’s time spent in the region — opening hotels in Doha, Qatar and Dubai — as well as the population’s use of mobile delivery services. The Saudi Arabian online food ordering and delivery market was valued at $511 million in 2020, according to one report.
The move is also the latest in a series to rapidly grow Nazarian’s business. C3 — which stands for Creating Culinary Communities — launched 165 locations in the U.S. in its first year. Now, two years after its founding in 2019, it operates over 250 digital brand locations across the U.S. with plans to grow to over 1,000.
As a part of the expansion, C3 is set to introduce 40 international brands to Saudi Arabia, including Umami Burger, Sam’s Crispy Chicken, Cicci Di Carne and El Pollo Verde.
Those brands were designed to co-exist, allowing the same cooks and equipment to easily make different foods, whether that be tacos or caviar.
“It’s really what differentiates us from the people that are, quote, unquote, in the ghost kitchen business, because we’re really a brand company and a tech company,” Nazarian said.
The first Saudi Arabian site expected to open in the first quarter of 2022 is Citizens Food Hall in Riyadh. The location will have full-service restaurants and a fast-casual food hall, along with a ghost kitchen that will fulfill delivery and pick up orders.
The expansion comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is looking to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy to develop public service sectors, including hospitality.
C3 continues to have grand plans for the future in other areas of the world. Though he could not share details, Nazarian said the company is currently looking at a large acquisition in the United Kingdom.
Nazarian is known for operating popular nightclubs and luxury hotels. But last November, he sold his remaining 50-percent stake in SBE Entertainment’s hotel brands. In its place, he increased his ownership of SBE’s restaurant and virtual kitchens business.