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The clean solution

Turkish dumplings delivered with a Tesla

The franchise plan stands despite Corona crisis

In 2014, Murat Cifci opened his first stall selling sandwiches. Then came restaurants in Rotterdam and, at the start of this year, Eindhoven. All bear the Ekmekci brand name and all are successful. This year, there were plans to open two more subsidiaries but then the coronavirus hit and on Sunday 15 March, all outlets had to be closed...

This was not a complete surprise to Murat. In fact, he was already prepared. ‘I had seen the reports from Asia, so I called my management team together at the beginning of March. We put together a strategy for the scenario when we had to close. It included small renovation jobs, staff training, team building sessions, order delivery and collection. Our counterparts in other companies were astonished when we described all of this to them,’ Murat laughs.

"We are using everything available. Scooters, bikes, motorbikes, my wife's car, even my car. People must laugh when they see their food being delivered in a Tesla."

Responding quickly

In the first few days after we had to close, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding what we were and were not allowed to do. When it became clear that order collections and deliveries were within the rules, Murat and his team were able to put their plan into action. ‘I immediately had a food ordering website made to complement our existing website. It was finished within two days. I also registered us on Just Eat. Now customers can place orders on either website and then we do the deliveries.

The delivery service was an immediate success. That comes as no surprise. After all, Ekmekci food was always immensely popular, especially their gözleme – a traditional Turkish dish that Murat has adapted for Western European tastes. ‘Having a strategy ready and knowing what you have to do is only part of the solution. You also need a team who you trust implicitly. I am so proud of my team. Everything worked from the off when we transitioned. The grill master took on the deliveries, as did the managers. I even delivered some orders because I needed to know how it all worked and what I was asking of my team. We are using everything available. Scooters, bikes, motorbikes, my wife's car, even my car. People must laugh when they see their food being delivered in a Tesla,’ explains Murat proudly.

Guaranteeing quality and speed

This new way of doing business did not come easily, though. ‘Each outlet has its own delivery radius. I took me a day to work out how far we needed to travel from each restaurant. To do this, I downloaded the postcodes and simply typed them carefully into Google Maps to see how long the journeys would take. We also had to set a minimum order value and a delivery fee. I reworked everything six times because we kept getting complaints: we were too slow or the minimum order was too much. It was really a question of trial and error but we got there in the end.’

Delivering food also raises other questions, like how to package it. ‘With our market hall stalls, we already had experience with customers collecting food but for some of our products we really had to think creatively. We have also adapted our menu, of course. We removed our extensive breakfast offering because it was simply not practical. We even had to remove some gözmele dishes in cases where I could not guarantee they would be fresh enough. You still get the quality that you are used to from us.’

Keeping staff on

Closing his restaurants meant Murat lost 70 to 80% of his revenue but he still has not made any of his 100 employees redundant. ‘From day one, the idea was to take care of our employees and keep them in jobs, even if we had to pay them out of our own pocket. I sent the following WhatsApp to all of our outlets right at the start of the first day of closure: Don't worry. I will do everything in my power to keep you in employment and keep paying you. We don't yet know what will happen from here.

Of course, we applied for emergency assistance (NOW regulation in the Netherlands). We did not receive anything for Eindhoven because the assistance was based on employee pay for January and we did not have any at the time. So we are still making up that gap, even for employees on flexible contracts. After all, we are dependent on people. We still have to pay rent as normal, too. I can understand that from the point of view of smaller landlords, and we are in discussion with the larger ones. I expect we will come to a solution in the end.’

"From day one, the idea was to take care of our employees and keep them in jobs, even if we had to pay them out of our own pocket."

Reopening the HoReGa sector

As of 1 June, restaurants and street cafés are allowed to reopen if they maintain certain conditions. Murat and his team are ready. ‘Initially, we will have as few staff on duty as possible, since we are only allowed to have 30 customers in the restaurants. We will work with 45 minute time slots and 15 minute gaps between slots to clear the table. When placing an online order, customers can tell us where they would like to eat. That is if they have decided, of course. Then we can prepare a little. In our restaurants, food is usually on the table within 8–9 minutes but we are trying to streamline that.

In the Alexandrium and in Eindhoven, we have two entrances which will be designated as an entrance and an exit. We will also set up a fixed collection point where customers can come and get their food themselves. The tables will have QR codes so that customers can order and pay on their smartphones so that we don't have to go to their tables. Eindhoven is the only restaurant with an outdoor area. That was the first spot to reopen on 1 June. It can accommodate five tables, that we spread out. Our ordering websites have enabled us to collect lots of e-mail addresses which we can use to invite our customers to order online and go out for a meal at one of our restaurants. We will definitely continue to offer delivery though as we cannot achieve our usual level of sales with just 30 customers.’

"We have already finished writing our franchise handbooks and they state that franchisees must use MEIKO machines. That is simply because they are good machines, the service is good and the people there really engage with us."

Sneakily looking to the future

Even though we are still in the midst of the crisis and nobody knows how long it will last, Murat still dares to look to the future. ‘This situation will also offer us new opportunities, such as great premises becoming available. We want to continue to grow to be a national or even an international company. We are therefore working on franchising options. We have already finished writing our franchise handbooks and they state that franchisees must use MEIKO machines. That is simply because they are good machines, the service is good and the people there really engage with us. From the off, I had a good feeling about them and decided to always go with MEIKO.’ Here's hoping for better times to come quickly so that Murat can move forward with plans to grow the business.

Find tasty Turkish food at www.ekmekci.nl

Murat Cifci (Ekmekci) and Hans Nunnikhoven (MEIKO Netherlands)
Murat Cifci (Ekmekci) and Hans Nunnikhoven (MEIKO Netherlands)