Malta’s expat make-up has changed dramatically in recent years. While it’s still the case that a good number of expats are retirees, coming for a warmer climate in their seasoned years, the Islands are seeing younger expats arrive, ranging from their early 20s to mid 40s, and often with kids in tow. A lot come for i-gaming jobs, but some who do, move on to other work once they’ve sussed Malta out.
Among that latter group is French couple Stephanie and Stephan Samson, who have three children and who’ve just opened their own brand in food retail: The Donut Factory, in St Paul’s Bay, offering sweet donuts, savoury bagels, other light snacks and drinks.
This first in our series looking at expat-preneurs, as we’ve labelled them, ask what issues they faced, how easy it was and what advice they can give to other expats starting out in Malta, particularly in their sector of food and retail.
Q. When expats start businesses, they often fall into defined categories – property, retail, tourism & hospitality and so on; areas they see a need that’s lacking locally or one they think serves fellow expats. How did you decide on which business type to set up in Malta?
My husband and I have always wanted to set up our own business. As we’re both real foodies, we were often speaking about places in Malta to go have a nice snack or bite. One day, with close friends, that discussion went further as we started to imagine together what place we would want to create in Malta, offering real indulgence, both in terms of the food and the atmosphere. That conversation turned into a business plan, and we partnered with our friends to turn this idea into reality – it became “The Donut Factory”.
Q. Do you have previous experience in catering and/or retail? Would it be necessary you think for people starting out in the food sector here?
Our partners already run a highly successful retail operation abroad, and that experience was extremely handy to get things started. My own background is in sales and marketing, specifically in textile. I have gained a lot of experience in business development in many different European countries. None of us however had any experience in catering, and so very early on we looked for and appointed a highly-experienced bakery consultant. From finding the right location to developing the interior design, from branding to sales strategy, we always tried to identify experienced partners that could really add value and fill our knowledge gap in this industry. We were extremely lucky to have a fantastic team around us.
Q. Your business is an independent, but did you look at franchise options first – perhaps as a less risky or less stressful business type to set up?
Yes, the Donut Factory is a pure start-up and a totally independent brand, not affiliated in any way to any international business. In the very first stage of investigation, we spoke to a few interesting brands. It was immediately clear that the small Maltese market was quite a hard sell. We feel they are missing a great opportunity though! We considered both options from the start but quickly decided to go with our own brand, taking into account the high investment of a franchise and the fact that the international brands were often unknown to the Maltese. Creating our own brand made more sense financially and in terms of potential business development abroad.
Q. Malta has a lot of snack and short-service outlets; wasn’t it risky to enter a saturated market?
As in any market, a clear differentiation is essential for success. At The Donut Factory we focus on exceptional and unique products, that have no equivalent today in Malta. We support our products through a very specific philosophy: we call ourselves bakers of happiness. Happiness not only through a really friendly and smiley service, but also because we do products which we really love and are proud of. In that sense, The Donut Factory is not a snack bar or short-service outlets – we have built a brand with a strong identity and fabulous products, a unique experience which does not exist today in Malta.
Q. What about finding suitable premises? I’ve heard finding property at the right price can be a big issue.
It certainly was not easy to find a place which combined all our requirements: large enough to cater for a full-blown bakery and a coffee shop, with an open kitchen visible to all clients. But perseverance always pays, and we think our location in St Paul’s Bay offers many advantages and very strong visibility.
Q. What were the greatest challenges you faced in set up here – staff, legal, tax?
We didn’t have any experience in the catering sector, nor of course setting up a company in Malta. So there was a steep learning curve, and the journey was and is full of adventure. We found the Maltese extremely helpful and positive about our project.
Q. What advice would you give others thinking about moving to Malta and starting out in catering?
We definitely believe that Malta is a fantastic place to live in and start a business. However I do think that you need to learn about and get to love the Maltese way of life before creating your own business on the Island.
Malta offers a lot of advantages (fiscal, regulatory…) in a number of sectors such as finance, i-gaming and insurance; it’s however not the case in catering. We spoke to Malta enterprise but there were no relevant schemes for our activities. So there is no specific reason to come to Malta to start such a business. In our case, we had been here three years before we took the decision to start The Donut Factory in Malta.