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Can Hard Rock Cafe keep the beat in the Middle East?

From Leone Lakhani, CNN
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
  • Hard Rock Cafe is expanding into Asia and the Middle East
  • Company has more than tripled revenues since 2003
  • Business now focuses on casinos and hotels as well as restaurants and music

Watch the full interview with Hamish Dodds on Marketplace Middle East Facetime on CNN. Click here for the show times.

(CNN) -- As the legend goes, it all started with two Americans living in London in search of a good burger.

Bereft of what they considered acceptable options, the pair decided to open their own American-styled diner with the food and attitude to match.

They would call this nascent start-up the Hard Rock Cafe.

Over the next two decades this famous old joint became a regular haunt for A-list musicians and a museum for rock star memorabilia.

Today, it's a global industry with 180 venues in more than 50 countries, including outlets as far afield as Bahrain and Dubai.

But building this rock and roll empire hasn't been easy.

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When current CEO, Hamish Dodds, took over in 2004 many considered the brand old and tired.

Like record companies and music stores, the Hard Rock Cafe found itself asking how can a business so synonymous with the vinyl epoch stay relevant in the age of the digital download?

"I think that's part of the challenge for this brand as it does have a history but it's also part of the beauty," Dodds told CNN.

"It''s really around being relevant for the younger consumers (as) so many ... are not familiar with (our) history."

Hard Rock Cafe has sought to keep up with the latest trends by adapting and expanding its services.

The company now stages 26,000 live gigs every year, Dodds said, and has successfully added hotels and casinos to its portfolio since the turn of the century.

Revenues jumped from under $1 billion dollars in 2003 to $3.5 billion in 2013 with the casino business accounting for the largest chunk of this rise.

Now the Hard Rock Cafe is aggressively expanding in Asia and the Middle East with plans for hotels in Abu Dhabi and a cafe in Doha.

"We've been here (in the Middle East) a very long time," Dodds reflected. "Our cafes have basically had a very successful run (and our) new cafe in Dubai has really performed extremely well.

"There's something special about our brand, it resonates a lot with our Middle Eastern customers."

But with the lucrative gaming side of the business not permitted in many nations within the region, Dodds sees the more traditional aspects of the cafe's brand coming to the fore.

Hard Rock t-shirts and other merchandise still account for between 30% and 50% of sales at each destination after all.

"In markets where gaming is not permitted, we still have growth and consumer opportunities in hotels and cafes," Dodds said.

He adds that the company will also look to tailor its offers to the diverse markets it now finds itself operating in.

"You used to go to a hard rock cafe and they all looked the same."

"So we've changed that mechanic again as part of the brand re-invigoration and we want everyone to be different and to reflect the personality of the building and the country and the people in that country," he said.

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