KFC’s Finger-lickin’ Brand Makes Its Israeli Comeback in Nazareth

After a few failed attempts to burst into the local market, the global fried-chicken empire has now set up shop next to a popular knafeh place

People line up in front of the new KFC branch on opening day in Nazareth, February 3, 2020.
Eran Kaliger

A new branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in Israel on Monday for the first time in years – this time, in the northern city of Nazareth. The global company had tried on several occasions in the past to establish a presence in the country, but failed, although it does have some branches in Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank.

On the occasion of the grand opening of the Nazareth restaurant, which is not kosher, Haaretz spoke to Omer Zeidner, KFC’s director general in Israel.

Thus far the identity of the entrepreneur behind the local venture has been under wraps. Who was responsible for bringing the chain back to Israel?

Zeidner: “The international chain has spearheaded the chain’s steps in Israel. The Israeli chain will be subordinate to the company’s headquarters in Russia, but it was the global organization that took the lead here. The Israeli move began a while ago. There’s also a group of local investors behind the branches but at the moment they prefer to stay silent.”

“In its newest version, the chain will not be kosher. We have conducted some studies and one of the things we learned was that if you want to succeed and plant a stake for the long-term, you have to bring a product that people know from abroad. Israelis love our fried chicken and they love to eat it when they go abroad. One of the results of the ‘open skies’ reform has led to the tremendous exposure of young people to our brand, especially, in Europe. I see young people posting photos in social media and showing enthusiasm for the brand. We are bringing over the original product and I can assure you we won’t deviate one iota from the taste people remember from their last trip abroad. It’s fresh chicken prepared on the spot, exactly as it is ordered, as fresh as possible. It must be understood that the concession on the kashrut issue was due to the aspiration to replicate the taste that people are familiar with and it was not ideological. This is the only way to offer the real flavor.”

Unfortunately, Israelis have had bad experiences with foreign chains that come here. They tend to offer much less than what we know from abroad and sometimes it’s very disappointing. What will you be preparing here?

“Our menu is broad and quite similar to the menus you see at our branches abroad. You can find a wide variety of chicken dishes, with bones or filleted, spicy wings and a variety of hamburgers, also with spicy and classic coatings. We shall of course also offer our iconic buckets. There’s also a series of burgers and wraps, and a variety of twisters [tortillas filled with tenders]. We offer economy meals and have also added chicken salad and Caesar salad to the menu.”

What about the price? Often it’s more expensive in Israel than abroad.

“We have chosen to be competitive and to offer competitive market prices to the greatest extent possible. For example, a complete and satisfying hamburger meal will cost 40 to 50 shekels, and others will cost less. Family-sized buckets of chicken pieces for groups will go for less than 100 shekels; we’ve made every effort to keep it at 95 shekels. We’ve fought for this, because prices are key.”

Why have you chosen to open the first branch in Nazareth?

“Nazareth is well suited to our brand. It’s a tourist city in every sense of the word, with a combination that we love of the old and the new, and it’s always full of visitors. From a logistics point of view, as you know, what’s ready first is what opens – and this was the first branch to be ready. We are proud of it just as we will be proud of other branches opening in the near future in Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva. The plan is to open dozens of branches in Israel in the coming years and to create a ‘critical mass’ here.”

As you undoubtedly know, home delivery has been growing here. Will you also offer a delivery service?

“I imagine that in the future we will definitely join the tend and offer that service at our branches, but it’s still too early to speak about it. Our first goal is to establish the brand, create stability and then think further. Deliveries are logistically complicated and they require preparation; there’s no doubt you have to be ready for it. At the moment, we are advancing with the base we have. We haven’t compromised on anything with the opening of the new branch and there’s a team here from England that’s been overseeing the opening in the last few weeks, so that it all goes according to the highest standards. Lengthy processes were required to ensure quality and to instruct the suppliers and find the best raw ingredients.”

While we’re talking about suppliers, are the chickens local or imported?

“Local. We work with fresh local chicken and anything else that’s fresh and local. Take our dessert menu, for example. It’s completely local and of the highest standards. There’s chocolate soufflé, chocolate chip cookies like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, Belgian waffles with ice cream, ice cream and shakes. We’ve opened up in the best location in Nazareth, a very central spot, near Mary’s Well and the city’s best knafeh place.”