If you've ever traveled anywhere in the general vicinity of Saudi Arabia, then you've probably heard stories of a certain broasted chicken restaurant called Al Baik (which means 'the master' or 'the elderly' and is of Turkish origins, traditionally applied to the leaders or rulers of various sized areas in the Ottoman Empire).
Residents of the kingdom have been flocking to this food chain eatery for decades; "flocking" as in using each other as catapults to reach Al Baik's doors.
Originally named Broast Restaurant, the chain's almost half a century lifespan began with one man, Shakour Abu Ghazalah, in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. What Abu Ghazalah didn't know at the time was that 1974 would be the year he creates something revolutionary for the kingdom.
To him, he was simply providing people food that was affordable and quick, yet of high quality. In 1974, he signed an exclusive agreement with an overseas company for the rights to use certain deep-fried chicken spice blends and equipment. That same year, he put all his savings into a restaurant that would bring forth a new era of fried chicken into Saudi Arabia, a dish never before introduced in the country.
After opening his second restaurant in 1976, Abu Ghazalah died of cancer at the age of 48. He never got to watch his two restaurants turn into what is essentially the kingdom's broasted chicken empire today.
After his death, his sons Ihsan and Rami took over, except they had to start from scratch after losing the exclusive rights to the restaurant. By the time they had picked up the slack, over 400 copycats had already appeared in the city of Jeddah alone.
"We didn't know about food when we started," Rami said, according to Al Baik's website. "We weren't restaurateurs, we were engineers. We had to learn the food business from the ground up. I followed the example of our father and got behind the counter, cooked the food, served our customers, cleaned up the premises, everything, while Ihsan went to Paris to study Food Technology. Once we learned the basics, we began to deploy systems that ensure quality and increase efficiency."
It took the brothers three years of hard and discreet work to come up with the famous 18 secret herbs and spices recipe that people have come to know and adore.
In the years that followed, Al Baik began to grow rapidly. The restaurant chain started serving food to pilgrims during Hajj season in 1998 and have kept this going till today.
Expansion into neighboring cities such as Medina launched in 2001 and continued ever since.
As the empire grew, the Abu Ghazalah brothers began to feel a sense of social responsibility, which lead them to launch an environmental awareness program in 2005 in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) titled "Clean Up The World."
Rami Abu Ghazalah believes the success of Al Baik is traced back to its customers and that every step forward is owed to them.
"Our giving back to the community and corporate social responsibility is our thank you to the communities, neighbors and customers we serve – a thank you in the ALBAIK way," he said, as mentioned on the Al Baik website.
The renowned eatery also spread a food safety awareness campaign and took up sponsoring children education programs in an attempt to eliminate poverty and famine.
Al Baik is not simply a restaurant chain, but an active member of society.
Fun facts about Al Baik
- The restaurant was initially called Broast Restaurant until Ihsan Abu Ghazalah and his late wife changed the name to Al Baik in 1986.
- Al Baik has caused crazy stampede openings.
- Al Baik did not open in the Saudi capital Riyadh until 2017.
- Fried shrimps and fish fillets were added to the menu due to high customer demand.
- The eatery branched out all the way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
- In 2019, it was the top-ranking brand in the kingdom, according to YouGov's Brand Index, coming in as the No. 1 brand in the country and beating Al Marai, YouTube, and Google.
- Arabs not living where there's Al Baik constantly ask visiting friends and family to bring them some.
- Al Baik's sister company AQUAT was the first in Saudi Arabia to ever receive an ISO certification for its food safety management systems.