How to make growing your business a piece of cake

By Nigina Mirbabaeva

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How to make growing your business a piece of cake

EBRD and EU grow Egypt's NOLA from cupcake store into leading dessert company

“We want the Cairenes to experience the best of life’s little pleasures.”

For Adel and Laila Sedky, this was the mantra that led to the opening of NOLA – the first cupcake store in Cairo – in 2010, and essentially introducing the cupcake concept to the Egyptian market.

The brother and sister duo share a love for baking and an entrepreneurial spirit with innovation at the heart. These two ingredients, with a sprinkle of help from the EBRD, have allowed NOLA to grow rapidly, evolving into a fully fledged dessert concept that goes beyond just cupcakes, with 25 stores and a central production facility operating in Egypt today.

“The secret to our success is that NOLA is for everyone, not just for cupcake lovers” says Adel. “We’re an affordable luxury, offering products for every price range and taste.” 

Yet this was a long and challenging road – until 2015, NOLA was only about cupcakes, and shifting people’s perceptions of its business was not easy.

Although already a successful brand, in 2015, NOLA envisioned evolving its business and moving beyond its original identity.

Realising they needed advice on branding strategy to shift people’s perceptions of NOLA, Adel and Leila approached the EBRD for support in their future growth and for establishing new business processes. 

In 2017, through its business advisory programme funded by the European Union, the EBRD matched NOLA with technical advisers and international chefs that provided NOLA’s team with the skills and training needed to create new products and evolve the company’s operations.

“One of our competitive edges is innovation: we pride ourselves on being distinctive in the market,” Adel says. Yet this constant drive to innovate can be very exhausting, not to mention expensive.

The advisory team trained NOLA’s chefs, allowing the team to learn new techniques and create new recipes for the Egyptian market. Today, NOLA is known for doing modern spins on traditional oriental desserts and offering gourmet products that are not readily available elsewhere.

“Just having someone taking a wider look at your business and inspiring you to create new ideas is invaluable,” Adel, says. “We wouldn’t have been able to reach or finance these professionals ourselves.” 

And the results were immediate. The biggest tangible benefit was the ability to introduce new products such as the salted caramel popcorn kunafa, creating a remarkable buzz during Ramadan – a month that, in a sweet-loving country like Egypt, can make or break a dessert company.

“It was a game changer,” Adel says. “Everyone was talking about our spin on the traditional kunafa, our social media was abuzz, and our mobile orders skyrocketed.”

So successful was the brand with its new product mix that NOLA had to move into new factory premises with bigger production capabilities. Its sales have steadily increased over the last four years, quadrupling from EGP 18 million (€1 million) in 2015 to over EGP 94 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, the increased demand for NOLA’s sweet and savoury products led to an increase in its workforce from 118 to 310 employees and, having started with just one store, the company is now a successful franchise, with the NOLA brand delivering 25 stores across Egypt.

And they don’t plan to stop.

With so much potential in the Egyptian dessert market, the team is focused on further expanding and bringing more innovative recipes and sweet desserts to Egyptians of all ages, Adel notes:

“Eventually our end goal is to have a solid footprint in international markets and make NOLA a globally recognized brand.”

And at the rate that NOLA is growing, making these sweet dreams a reality should be a piece of cake.

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