Nick Vincent in the Fountain Gate store. Photo: Craig Abraham
While Australian cafe chain The Coffee Club planned its assault on the Egyptian market, its future customers kept themselves equally busy. They staged a revolution, overthrew an autocrat and installed their first freely elected leader - the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, who is now trying to wrest power from the military.
Amid such upheaval, and less than a year after selling a licence to an Egyptian franchisee, The Coffee Club opened its first cafe on Egypt's north coast earlier this month.
To the uninitiated, the coffee chain's Egyptian venture could be construed as risky and even dangerous, but Nick Vincent, general manager of the franchise, founded 23 years ago with a single Brisbane shop, says the opportunities in Egypt far outweigh the risks.
''We certainly talked about it, but having the master franchise on the ground has given us confidence that most of this unrest is fairly isolated,'' he says.
The Egyptian culture - where families and friends are more likely to congregate around coffee than alcohol - is a ''perfect fit'' for Australia's largest coffee chain, Vincent says. The statisticians agree. Coffee sales in Egypt have ballooned at annual rates of more than 20 per cent for much of the past four years, according to Business Monitor International's second-quarter 2012 report. Last year's sales growth dropped to 8.4 per cent, presumably due to the political unrest, but is expected to revive to about 30 per cent in 2014.
For most of The Coffee Club's life, its owners focused on Australia - starting in Brisbane and then spreading throughout the country. But after selling 50 per cent of the company to Thai hospitality group Minor International, the chain has spread its wings globally. In the past 18 months, it has opened franchises in China, New Caledonia, Thailand and Egypt. Its Australian sales grew 14.2 per cent in 2011 and revenue reached $344 million.
The company says it aims to open a new store every fortnight for the next five years. This aggressive overseas expansion is being overseen by Ross Caldwell, who got his first job at The Coffee Club as a teenage dishwasher.
While Caldwell has long had his eye on the middle east - ''the cafe culture's huge there'' - the Egyptian opportunity came as a surprise.
He was approached by Hossam Hussein, known as ''Sam'', an Egyptian who lived in Australia for 28 years, running two coffee shops. Hussein thought The Coffee Club's model would fare well in his home country. He says he wants to preserve the ''essence'' of the Australian brand, although certain menu items - the bacon and egg roll - for example, would have to go.