Yousif Aslam is the co-founder and managing director of Heavenly Desserts, a thriving international restaurant franchise delivering the very finest in artisan and luxury desserts. After co-founding the business alongside his partner Mohammed Imran in 2008, the duo has since gone on to expand the business into nearly 42 stores both nationally and internationally from its Derby headquarters. We sat down with Yousif to ask about his career history, how to stay relevant in the sector, and to glean advice on how to start your own international franchise.
The rise of a successful entrepreneur
My success has stemmed from my broad range of experience in the franchising industry. Having worked in a variety of roles within the food and beverage industry – from catering and business development to operations management – I was able to gain the knowledge needed to start my own restaurant business.
As a store owner for Dixy Chicken from 2007-2010, Imran and I learned from the challenges we faced as franchisees and applied that insight to our business plan for Heavenly Desserts. We wanted to make sure everything was perfect and spent several years perfecting our approach before we opened the doors.
We wanted to make sure Heavenly Desserts provided an unrivalled dining experience like no other, with the very best interior and unique menu options to tantalise the senses of every customer who walks through the doors of one of our stores, and we are proud to say that we are delivering on that promise. It is a true testament to the dedication and passion of our team that we were named Deliveroo’s Best Eco-Friendly Restaurant 2019 and Best Dessert-Only Restaurant in 2021.
It was also a real career highlight and one of my proudest achievements to have been invited to sit alongside Lord Alan Sugar in the BBC’s The Apprentice season finale panel in March 2022. Being recognised for my contribution to franchising on a national screen is something I never expected when I began this journey, and I am so grateful to my team as well as my business partner Imran for getting us to such a revered point.
How to start an international franchise
The next milestone in our sights is expansion, both nationally and internationally. We know that our model is successful in the UK – we have never lost a store, queues form upon our arrival in city centres, and we always receive touching feedback from local customers.
Our fifth London restaurant, based in high-footfall area on Baker Street, Marylebone, is set to open later this month. This will bring our total to 42 stores across the UK and we are incredibly proud of how far we’ve come given that we opened our doors only five years ago.
Our team is committed to achieving 50+ stores in the UK by early next year, with a big focus on broadening our reach in London – the heart of international tourism in Europe. It is our hope that visitors will be able to sample a slice of heaven and take the experience home with them, where the trend will take root globally.
The broader goal is to reach 250 stores internationally and we have begun conversations in America, India, China and the Middle East. We have our first store opening in Canada next month and the whole process has been hugely exciting for myself, Imran and our wider team.
Why innovation is the key ingredient for success
Any entrepreneur will tell you that the key to a successful business is innovation, and this is especially true where food is concerned. We are lucky to have a team that is so passionate about creativity and adaptability, as this has allowed us to continue to be an innovator and a trendsetter in the world of luxury treats.
We launched our new menu in August and I’m proud of our new offering. We didn’t stop at updating just one or two products – almost every product on our menu has been reviewed and reborn.
Our most classic, signature dishes – our croffles, waffles and cheesecakes – have all had new flavour combinations. Our no-alcohol drinks menu has been updated to match the latest trends in luxury mocktails and we’ve innovated on desserts that really push the boundaries – such as our Grow Up Cheesecake served in a plant pot complete with Biscoff soil. Our menus really cater for every dessert-lover, and we can say that with confidence as a result of our brand-new bespoke vegan menu, with products also suitable for Halal customers. By creating these new desserts and experiences, we make sure that we give our customers a reason to dine with us again and again.
The same view on innovation is also applied to the interiors of our stores. No store looks the same thanks to the diligence of my partner Imran and our marketing manager Paige Hilliard. Our teams work with our delivery partners to give each restaurant its own signature style because it’s not just about serving decadent desserts, it’s about giving people a memorable sit-down dining experience as a whole package.