Garlic kings & pretty things – don’t laugh, they sell Shawarma

garlicking horiz

It’s hard to believe that a niche product category like Shawarma would become the subject of a heated competition for the affection, pharmacy eyeballs, prescription and garlic-craving tastebuds of a city. But in my home town of Ottawa, there must be gold in them-there-pitas.

A few years back, authour Daniel Pink came to Ottawa lead a seminar. At the time, he was just an average former-White-House-speechwriter-flogging-a-soon-to-be-Bestseller (Free
Agent Nation
– a great read), and not yet not a revered member of North America’s business publishing elite. And he was hungry. So after the presentation, a few of the locals and I
took Mr. Pink out for a late-night bite to eat at Maroush Shawarma on Elgin Street.

Now Maroush isn’t your average, tame ethnic fast food outlet. Maroush has its own theme music – a raucous Lebanese pop song – and a devoted following of late-night partygoers who tend to dance on the countertops (strongly encouraged by the owner).

This led to a discussion of how a brand in a crowded, highly competetive market can distinguish itself – even if it involves in-your-face (and occasionally really tacky) gimmicks.The Garlic King in the St. Patrick's Day Parade - yes you read that right. The finest in Lebanese-Irish cuisine.

The Garlic King is another example. Here’s a photo of his specially tricked-out van which seems to appear everywhere there is a crowd. This photo is from Ottawa’s St.  Patrick’s Day parade. Lebanese-Irish cuisine anyone?

Scoff all you want. These kinds of “Honest Ed’s” brands end up becoming landmarks in the local scene. Why? Because they DIFFER.

So ask yourself: can you do better? How are you going to DIFFER in your market?

BONUS: if you have 5 minutes and 49 seconds, this amateur documentary isn’t a bad introduction to the Ottawa Shawarma scene: