The easing of sanctions following the nuclear deal in 2016 has had an unexpected result in Iran – the sudden influx of foreign food chains. Put off for years by escalating tensions and an economy bogged down by bureaucracy and red tape, foreign investors have finally decided that setting up shop in the Middle East’s second largest nation is worth the risk. Iranian citizens spend approximately NZD $10 billion a year at food outlets such as ‘Mash Donalds’ or ‘Pizza Hat’, and now investors are looking at claiming a piece of the action.
French entrepreneur Amaury de la Serre was one of the first to make the move, having bought the rights to start the high-end French-owned chain ‘Sushi Shop’ in Iran. The first branch opened in a posh neighbourhood in Tehran in early July. Spanish chain Telepizza opened its first outlet at around the same time, with a view to spending NZD$155 million in expanding the venture nationwide.
"There's a strong government will to bring foreign capital and know-how here, but at the day-to-day administrative level, it's hell," said de la Serre. Doing business in Iran is far from simple, with the country ranked 120th out of 190 countries in the ‘ease of doing business’ rankings, compiled by the World Bank. It took de la Sarre a year to get the import licenses for the Japanese sauces and the restaurant must import fresh fish from Norway three times a week. Furthermore, fear of US sanctions makes it hard to find financiers to fund any venture.