Lane of Arabia Guides Saudi Chains’ Growth


Industry veteran Lane Cardwell won’t discuss his recent interim stint as CEO of Ruby Tuesdays—something about “pursuing strategic alternatives” is keeping him mum. Cardwell is happy, however, to describe his current board chairmanship at Alfa Co., a Saudi restaurant group that found him by searching LinkedIn. (Yes, LinkedIn.) 

“My 21 boards experience must have surfaced, as well was the 25 casual-dining chains I’ve worked for,” he dryly jokes. The private company operates three concepts—a steakhouse, Italian full-service and fast-casual Fresh Mex—each with 15 units, all within the country. 

Cardwell adds management worries about the same things U.S chains do: sales, customers, menu evolution and expansion. He’s helping the company open its first unit outside of Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, later this year. 

“Other than the fact they’re in Saudi Arabia, you could drop the restaurants into any U.S. city,” he says. 

Some diners may nonetheless wonder why single men and women and families have separate entrances and dining areas, to say nothing of the all-male front- and back-of-house staff. Women, incidentally, are forbidden to interact with men in restaurants.

Cardwell, who will be making his eighth trip to the country this spring, notes the company (a division of Al Faisaliah Group) pays him about twice the compensation of a typical board member here.

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