Dubai Cloud Kitchen Startup Plots Saudi, Southeast Asia Push

Dubai-based Kitopi, a technology startup which runs so-called cloud-kitchens, is set to raise more money from investors later this year as it plans to expand in Saudi Arabia and launch in Southeast Asia.

The company, whose kitchens handle delivery orders for multiple food brands, is due to become profitable “this year, sometime very soon,” founder and Chief Executive Officer Mohamad Ballout said in an interview.

After opening in the east and west coasts of Saudi Arabia, as well as in Qatar and Bahrain, Kitopi will launch in several cities across Southeast Asia later this year, he said.

Cloud kitchens have started to attract more attention from global investors and international food brands as movement restrictions encourage a boom in food delivery. Wendy’s said in December it would open 250 cloud kitchens in India as part of a deal with Rebel Foods, dwarfing its nine brick-and-mortar outlets in the country.

But lockdowns to tackle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic have been a double-edged sword. Kitopi closed down its operation in New York last year as cases spiked, while food delivery soared in places like the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The company eventually aims to re-enter the U.S., Ballout said. “Our ambition is a global one,” he said.

The company, which raised $60 million last year, is benefiting from an uptick in the number of investors looking to put money into technology firms in the region, Ballout said. The $3 billion sale of Dubai-based ride-hailing app Careem to Uber Technologies Inc. in 2019 “showed global investors that this region can offer good opportunities.”

The need to diversify regional economies and create jobs means that “government-related entities, big corporate venture capital or private equity firms in the region, and sovereigns, are all looking at investing in local tech start-ups more than ever before,” he said.

Kitopi has raised $120 million since it was founded in 2018, from investors including U.S.-based Lumia Capital, Rise Capital and Knollwood.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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