Catering Today sits down with Heavenly Desserts co-founder and managing director Yousif Aslam. He discusses the company\u2019s 2022, its first Canadian store and future expansion plans.\r\n\r\nCould you just tell me a little bit about the history of the company?\r\n\r\nWe opened our first store in Birmingham in 2008 and then we opened a number of company owned stores between the period of 2008 and 2016, predominantly in the Midlands. In late 2016. The business went through a number of changes in its format and then we went to the market in 2017. Since then, we haven't really looked back.\r\n\r\nJust how pleased were you with 2022 as a whole for the company?\r\n\r\nDefinitely pleased. We were just shy of our target of store openings in the UK. We wanted to open around 15 to 20 stores. But we did 12. So considering the fact that last year was a tough time for the industry with the rising costs and utility bills and cost of living crisis and the impact of that on footfall we had a good year. We saw existing franchisees sign up to do second and third stores. We have increased our team here in the head office to support our growth. So overall pleased.\r\n\r\nHow were you able to coordinate a successful launch?\r\n\r\nYou know now that we've done it actually wasn't that difficult. The language is the same, that's a very big factor, and most certainly helpful. What you've got to remember is we're an operator here who's been operating for a long time, and we know our business really well. We have a really good team. Yes, we came across some hurdles and some bumps that we most certainly overcame. Overall we didn't find it really difficult. I think that's because the senior leadership team within our business is very experienced. Nothing is impossible for us. Our team here in the office that have supported the launch have the same mindset. So that's made it almost seem easy. I think for somebody to replicate it, who doesn't have our level of experience probably would find it much harder.\r\n\r\nWhat were the challenges of the launch and how were you able to overcome them?\r\n\r\nI think they were mostly around the supply chain, which is probably the biggest challenge any brand would face when they're taking their brand from the native country to another one. The dairy in Canada is different and we have a menu made up of desserts. There's lots of dairy products on there so that was a learning curve and a challenge to realise that there's got to be some amendments to the recipes, in order to get it tasting like in the UK.\r\n\r\nHow do you plan to manage the UK side of the business alongside the international expansion?\r\n\r\nOne of the things that we've done fairly well since we decided to franchise our business was every year, we've grown our infrastructure in terms of our people infrastructure, within our head office. So we've always planned ahead, and we've always had a relatively good idea as to how many stores we're going to deliver the following year and in what areas of the business we need to increase manpower. So we've ensured that we've increased our infrastructure, as we've grown. So what that has meant is now that we're an international operating business, and we are focusing on international growth, we have a very able and sufficient team to be able to look after and sustain and support the UK.\r\n\r\nAre there any other countries that you would really like to break into?\r\n\r\nThe Middle East is certainly a target market for us. This year, we would like to crack deals in places like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has always been on our radar as well. We've got a deal in Pakistan, whereby we will be opening our first store hopefully before the summer. We're working on a really large deal with India as well because it's an economy that can't be ignored and it also has a thriving f&b scene. You can't be in Asia and not be in India.\r\n\r\nWhat do you think the differences will be in terms of setting up a business in Canada or in North America compared to somewhere in the Middle East or in Asia?\r\n\r\nWe don't think setting up in the Middle East is going to be too difficult. Again English is the common language. The Middle East generally has a very well established, f&b scene with hotels and various restaurants. Western restaurant chains are really big out there. The Middle East has really strong laws, especially for franchising, and these things always help an operator when launching into the country. In South Asia the challenges are greater. English isn't the first language and they have political instability at times in these countries. The law of the land perhaps isn't as strong as you would expect in the West. So, these things also mean that a lot of red tape comes into various areas of setup, whether that's legal or against supply chain.\r\n\r\nWhere would you like to see the company in five years time?\r\n\r\nWe would like to see the Canadian market almost close to its development. Canada is about a 45 store market for us. We'd like to be trading in the United States we're working on a number of deals there. So some really exciting conversations happening at the Canadian launch certainly helped with that. And then we'd like to see ourselves trading in the key markets in the Middle East, as well as Asia as well.