We speak to Alia Abdelrahman and Youssef Fayez, the innovative minds behind Zamalek's latest food venture, Lujo's, which brings food-truck culture to Egypt in a bid to prove that even junk food can be gourmet.
One can argue that the Food Network is largely responsible for establishing the latest trends in all things food related. If it wasn’t for the millions of television shows about cupcakes, would Egypt have Nola’s Cupcakes or TBS? Every year the trend changes, ranging from creative healthy options, to gourmet junk food made by professionals but served off of trucks. Channeling the food truck gourmet junk craze is none other than Zamalek’s own Lujo’s.
Lujo’s is made up of two parts; Alia Abdel Rahman, aka Lulu, the co-owner who focuses on the food, and Youssef Fayez, aka Joe, who focuses on the business of building a delicious product and establishing a brand that becomes synonymous with Fresh Junk. “Both me and my business partner are big fans of the food network, and feeling inspired we decide to begin with small gourmet pizza oven in Hacienda. Once that boomed and the feedback was overwhelming, we decided to open a place in Zamalek that would add more than just pizzas,” explains Alia Abdel Rahman.
Originally, Lujo’s intended on following the popular gourmet food truck trend. However trying to introduce a new concept in Egypt always comes with obstacles. Fayez explains, “I looked into getting truck, but Egyptian bureaucracy is a disaster, and it would cost us more in bribes than opening a proper restaurant.” In an effort to overcome these obstacles, Lujo’s opted into opening a small place that would be mainly deliveries and pick-up, but at the same time offer customers the opportunity to sit and watch their food being made at their cozy storefront, providing customers a view of their open kitchen.
Speaking with both partners, it becomes obvious that not only were they fresh-obsessed, but all in all perfectionists about all details concerning their product, and making sure that the kitchen conditions are immaculately clean. Using only the highest quality ingredients, many of which are not easily found in Egypt, like truffle oil, bresaola, and buffalo mozzarella, Lujo’s have embraced the concept that delicious food doesn’t need to be complicated to taste good. Every item on the menu is well thought-out, striking a noticeable balance of flavours, introducing new sandwiches to the fast food community like Wasabi Shrimp Tempura and Jo’s Signature Crispy Duck with hoisin sauce. The noticeable difference is the freshness, as they bake all breads and dough in-house, while creating a wide of array of addictive in-house dips.
The problem with using expensive and fresh ingredients is that it eats away at the profits, but as Fayez puts it, “We are not in it for the money, we are in it because, we have a vision of introducing new flavours to the Egyptian palate.” In doing so profits will suffer, but awareness spreads and a brand is established, as many fast food junkies are always looking for an alternative to the Big Mac.
Lujo’s is new to the scene and although the menu is packed with creative new items, the problem that most places face is making sure that every dish is executed properly and consistently. “Unfortunately, it is hard to find employees who are passionate about what we are trying to do. They assume if we run out of our homemade BBQ sauce, that they can replace it with ketchup, as if the customer wouldn’t notice,” explains Fayez. In order to remedy this common problem, Lujo’s makes sure that one of the owners is always on-site, and in the kitchen, making sure that they execute their dream deliciously.
We had the good fortune of trying their slow-roasted beef brisket sandwich. Without any exaggeration, it was the freshest sandwich we have ever had in Cairo. Even though the sandwich was extremely delicious, the partners could be seen discussing with the chef the issues they had with the BBQ sauce. It was in that moment that it became very clear to us that both partners are extremely passionate and want nothing more than to please their customers, build their brand, and expand flavour profiles.
Since opening in June, Lujo’s has established quite the name for itself, with many investors looking to expand into different areas. However both partners believe that there is no point of expanding until their product is guaranteed to be made the right way every time. The other problem that comes with becoming so popular so fast is that it makes it difficult to ensure that all options on the menu are available. Thankfully, there is no shortage of comfort foods, and although there may be a kink or an error made here and there, all problems are addressed quickly and directly. “We had a customer complain that their fries were cold, so the very next day we changed the packaging, to make sure we address all issues before expanding,” explains Fayez.
Needless to say, Lujo’s future looks bright, and if this is their starting point, then there is no limit to where they can get to. Passion will always lead to fresh mouth-watering food, and at Lujo’s there is no shortage of either.
You can check out their Facebook page here.