Gloria Jean’s Pakistan: Localizing Coffee
Over a decade ago, Gloria Jean’s landed in Pakistan with a foreign identity and a foreign beverage. Even a third of the staff was foreign. It was the perfect setting for a big, affluent baddie to drive local competition out of business. Chaaye waalas could’ve been wiped out in a matter of months, ending with them the concept of going out for tea, eventually switching it up for coffee. But Gloria (as it is referred to locally) never intended on wiping out competition or clean-sweeping culture. Instead, it proposed to add to it with a product they trusted, and with a spirit that aimed to adapt and cater to society.
Read Urooj’s love letter to her favorite coffee chain. Gloria Jean’s Cafe has been central to every Lahori millennials teenage experience, what lends this franchise its timeless appeal?
It was a moderately cool, sunny afternoon when I sat down with Danish Khan, one of the individuals credited with bringing Gloria Jean’s to Pakistan. A CPA involved in electric power generation by profession, Khan considers Gloria a passion-project. This was abundantly clear in his animated behavior when discussing his affiliation with the brand. We had decided to meet at one of their best-known outlets in Lahore at the Gulberg Galleria.
While the bustle of Gulberg’s Main Boulevard, arguably one of the city’s busiest roads, was viewable through the three bay-windows around our table, its din did not interrupt our conversation. Given the day (Monday) and the time of the day (12:30 PM), the place was mostly quiet save the occasional, sharp sound of the coffee machine as it whooshed out cup after cup of cappuccinos, lattes and other heavenly caffeinated beverages.
Khan sipped his cappuccino thoughtfully (read: patiently) as I struggled to put together well-formulated questions. Let’s face it, I lacked cool. I knew this was going to be a discussion on franchising, quality assurance, branching out and space-allocation. But I wanted to determine the cultural and social significance of Gloria Jeans’s existence in Pakistan by the end of it. Not daunting at all.
I began the conversation with putting the coffee chain in personal perspective. Gloria first set up shop in Pakistan in 2007, while I was still in school, and since then, I’ve seen it become more and more infused with my studies and (later) work. I’ve also noticed that while these coffee houses would have smaller tables in the beginning, with one or two individuals on each, they now host the occasional family, visiting for coffee or desserts after a hearty meal at nearby restaurants.
What was originally considered a stop-and-go coffee shop has, in little over a decade, become a part of the landscape and routine of many.
What was originally considered a stop-and-go coffee shop has, in little over a decade, become a part of the landscape and routine of many. When insane hours of load-shedding drive people crazy, they can count on places such as Gloria to run to, sit down in and work for a few hours without being disturbed. Of course, in 2018, Gloria isn’t the only place offering this facility. Khan acknowledged this but didn’t seem too bothered by it. Instead, he asked me if I like coffee.
Uh oh. I explained that while I don’t necessarily dislike coffee, I’m not the biggest fan of it. I clutched onto my mango chiller pointedly. If I were him, at this point, I would’ve silently scoffed at my going on and on about “Gloria this” and “Gloria that” when I could happily rely on Nescafe during an all-nighter (no disrespect to Nescafe).
While I may not be as coffee literate as someone this fixated on a coffee chain should be, Gloria Jean’s has strangely featured too many times in my life. In school, their Z Block DHA branch was the only decent option for a quick 8 AM bite. At university, their Phase VI DHA branch was a perfect escape when the stress of studies or the limited options in the cafeteria would get to me. I once set up cameras in their C Block Model Town branch and recorded a quick interview for a documentary. On a trip with some friends, their picturesque Murree Expressway cafe was the only landmark I was riding on for navigation. But I refrained from sharing these rambling anecdotes with my company.
Khan did not scoff however, being a better person than I am, and instead he politely described the time and effort that went into the making of his cappuccino. As he described the liquid-to-froth ratio, it hit me: the reason he was so bemused in the face of competition is because he trusted the product he sold. When he said this cup of coffee was his essential kick for the day, I believed him. When he mentioned that it was economically priced for the quality of ingredients that had gone into it, I nodded in agreement.
Khan’s confidence made sense. It was backed by an impressive origin story.
GJC started as a small, charming coffee-chain in Chicago in the 1980s, then transformed into an Australian empire in the 90’s and is now a popular franchise around the world. Gloria Jean’s Pakistan is one of these franchises, run by a number of local entrepreneurs; many from a finance background.
… the brand built a loyal customer base slowly through an organic customer-barista relationship; one outlet at a time.
Their flagship outlet in Lahore was initially run by an Australian team, which took time interacting with customers and training employees in an attempt to immerse themselves in the local flavor. Among other activities, they would hold impromptu coffee-tasting sessions at the outlet to gauge customers’ preferences for various coffee beans and flavors. Although this move was expensive and risky for a relatively unknown business venture, it ensured one thing: brilliant service as a hallmark for Gloria Jean’s’ numerous branches across the country.
This caught me by surprise. I considered the communal aspect of Gloria Jeans as completely home-grown. I mean, I know of marriage bureaus that have conducted successful match-making ventures in the intimate yet segregated setting of these outlets, something I don’t imagine happening outside the Indo-Pak region. I voiced this anecdote out loud, leaving Khan visibly amused.
As convoluted as Gloria Jean’s and my life apparently are, I had the chance to visit three of their Australian branches as well. I didn’t see play places in any of them. As someone who doesn’t necessarily go to Gloria for the coffee, I was surprised that they didn’t serve any hot meals either.
Gloria Jean’s has adapted to local needs. It’s had hits and misses: Khan laughed at a date-shake they introduced during the month of Ramzan which wasn’t well-received. But otherwise, it has become a residential coffee waala, of sorts, where individuals can lounge, have an elaborate meal, play a round of pool or snooker, read a newspaper or smoke a cigarette. This wasn’t an overnight shift, and it is by no means finalized. Gloria Jean’s has ensured that it remains open to customer needs, and caters to as many of them as it can without compromising on quality.
Unlike American fast-food chains that also entered the local market around this time, Gloria Jean’s has never attempted to market itself as boisterously. Instead, the brand has built a loyal customer base slowly through an organic customer-barista relationship; one outlet at a time. And it looks like, Gloria Jean’s is here to stay for a while.