From the outside, this restaurant in the 20th arrondissement of Paris looks like yet another fast-food restaurant. But the burger menu, proudly displayed in the window, intrigues passers-by... who have a feeling of déjà vu. The “Big”, with its middle slice of bread, looks exactly like the Big Mac from the giant McDonald's. The “Jumbo”, with its steak streaked by the grill, seems straight from a Burger King. And what about the “Toast”, framed by two slices of toasted sandwich bread like Quick’n’Toast from Quick?
Welcome to Big M, the fast food chain that has decided to copy its competitors, and brags about it! “Our concept is “come to us, we have brought together all your favorite burgers”,” says Mehdi Bella, co-founder of the brand. At 36, he is at the head of a thriving company which already has 60 restaurants, with an entirely halal menu, in France and Senegal, a large part of which are franchisees, for 40 million euros in turnover. in 2023. Around ten openings are planned in the first six months of 2024.
The Big M adventure began in 2019. Mehdi Bella and his partner, then textile wholesalers, knew nothing about fast food but were truly passionate. “We traveled a lot, and we liked to test all the channels,” he remembers. One detail strikes them: the concept of a food court - a single room which brings together several restaurants, allowing diners to eat differently but at the same table - does not really exist in France. The idea then emerged of a restaurant that would bring together the star burgers, if not bringing together their brands.
The first Big M opened in August in Bondy, in Seine-Saint-Denis, in a small 60m2 premises, a few months before the country was locked down due to Covid-19. “But we turned this difficulty into an opportunity with delivery, because the product was suitable for it,” says Mehdi Bella. The two partners were asked to develop their franchise concept. To avoid fierce competition in Île-de-France, Big M mainly focused on openings far from Paris.
And if the fast food giants let this happen, it’s because they have no choice. Everyone is free to copy a dish and make money from it. “We cannot protect cooking recipes, either by copyright or by patent,” explains Séverine Fitoussi, intellectual property advisor at the Brandon IP firm. There may possibly be unfair competition if the entire range of products is included, with the same color code. Which would not be the case by combining recipes from different competitors on the menu. Only the name of the products, registered as a trademark, is protected.
A well-kept secret around the recipe and manufacturing is the only way to protect your product in the world of catering. This is the case for certain sauces such as the iconic McDonald's Big Mac sauce. At Big M, however, the copy is astonishingly realistic, from the sauce to the smell given off by the burger.
The brand even took the liberty of “improving” the recipes: deemed too dry or with too acidic sauce, many sandwiches were “revisited with customer feedback”. The steaks were often doubled for more consistency, and the ingredients sometimes adapted, such as bacon, the menu being halal. To strengthen its range, Big M also wanted to innovate, by offering a bao burger. This one at least, no major brand had yet on its menu.