Caterer Power List 2015: Independents

The entrepreneurs in F&B in the Middle East ranked
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Dr. Edward T. Saad, Founder and Chairman, Shakespeare and Co.
Dr. Edward T. Saad, Founder and Chairman, Shakespeare and Co.

01. Dr. Edward T. Saad, Founder and Chairman, Shakespeare and Co.

Shakespeare and Co. now stands at 22 company-owned branches throughout the UAE, as well as two in the US and eight international franchised locations. While pursuing its aggressive development locally and internationally, this year Shakespeare and Co. has also focused on the adoption of new technologies and platforms. The company introduced mobile payment option Beam Wallet and launched Kanari, an app-based customer feedback and loyalty scheme, which has garnered more than 20,000 instances of unique feedback since launching earlier this year. It has also partnered with Foodora as its delivery service provider, opening up a new revenue stream for the company. Finally, a new website was due to launch in November, with an improved user interface and navigation experience.

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Saad’s key priority for 2016 is to achieve continued growth. The company’s development schedule includes six additional stores in the UAE bringing its portfolio to 38, as well as the company’s first store in Saudi Arabia. New outlets are also planned for Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Oman and Egypt. Internally, the company will be upgrading its central production facility to provide more efficient output and support for its local and international stores. Saad’s vision is to also establish a foothold for the company in emerging markets such as the Far East and Africa moving forward.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 17
Number of years with this company: 15
Number of years in this role: 15
Number of years working in the Middle East: 35
Number of people you are responsible for: 1261
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 32
Nationality: Lebanese/American

02. Jihad El Eit, Founder and CEO, Man’oushe Street

Founded in the UAE in 2010, El Eit acquired a controlling stake in fast-food chain Man’oushe Street during the third quarter of 2012. At that point, he had no experience in the F&B industry. Within a year, the company had a new brand identity and a solid HR and systems infrastructure. During that same period, he managed to double Man’oushe Street’s same-store sales and expanded the company’s footprint with a number of new outlets in UAE. In the last year, the company’s headcount has also increased 40%.

With a number of corporate owned stores, a dedicated central kitchen and franchises in Egypt and Abu Dhabi, Man’oushe Street has a total of 17 outlets operating in the Middle East, 10 in the UAE, five in Egypt, one in Qatar, and one in Kuwait. In addition, the company’s pipeline includes outlets in Dubai’s Al Ghurair Centre and Arabian Ranches, as well as new openings in Kuwait and Egypt, all due by the end of this year. Launching a home-grown brand may have its challenges — as El Eit points out, there is no process that you can just copy and paste, nor any international support — but Man’oushe Street has overcome the odds.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 5
Number of years with this company: 5
Number of years in this role: 5
Number of years working in the Middle East: 13
Number of people you are responsible for: 350
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 17
Nationality: Lebanese

03. Paul Evans, Managing Director, Solutions Leisure Group

Since coming to Dubai only three years ago, Solutions Leisure Group has enjoyed enviable success. Having acquired the already successful Karma Kafé in the summer of 2013, the company followed this by opening home-grown brand Q43 at the Media One Hotel just six months later.

Evans built on the company’s success with another concept — Asia Asia, which opened at Pier 7 in Dubai Marina at the end of last year. Within the last 12 months, Evans and his team have worked tirelessly to grow the monthly footfall at all the group’s venues to more than 50,000 customers per month. Evans also topped this up with a personal achievement by winning the 2015 title of ‘Restaurateur of the Year’ at the Caterer Middle East Awards in June 2015.

He has also signed and begun building three more F&B concepts. Lock Stock & Barrel, a large party bar, will open in late 2015 at the Grand Millennium Hotel, Tecom, and Solutions Leisure has also signed a second space in Souk Al Bahar, where it will open The Atlantic, a seafood restaurant concept from Melbourne, Australia, mid next year. The group’s first franchise roll-out of its Asia Asia brand is also scheduled to take place in Iran in January 2016, with the launch of Asia Asia Tehran.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 15
Number of years with this company: 3
Number of years in this role: 3
Number of years working in the Middle East: 15
Number of people you are responsible for: 400
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 3
Nationality: British

04. Tom Arnel & Sergio Lopez, Co-Founders and Managing Directors, Bull & Roo Hospitality and Investments

Arnel and Lopez opened Tom & Serg, their first café, in November 2013. Earlier this year, they built on that brand’s success with the launch of The Sum of Us, a sourdough bakery, gourmet café and coffee roastery. This was swiftly followed by the opening of a third venue in the Bull & Roo Hospitality and Investments portfolio, Common Grounds. Bull & Roo’s concepts stem from Arnel and Lopez’s shared passion to change the dining scene in Dubai. It is the pair’s objective to inspire and reshape the food culture in the UAE by delivering venues that offer fresh, flavourful food, charismatic customer service, and innovative, atmospheric interiors.

The duo are gearing up to build on the success of 2015 with an even bigger and better year in 2016. Bull & Roo will be branching out into licensed bars and restaurants, centred around different concepts and in cool locations that are off the beaten track. The company will also move into food retailing in a big way. The ambitious expansion plans will see the Tom&Serg brand almost triple in size, and Bull & Roo’s 180-strong staff is set to increase to more than 500 by the end of 2016.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: Arnel – 15; Lopez – 19
Number of years with this company: 3
Number of years in this role: 2
Number of years working in the Middle East: Arnel – 7; Lopez – 9
Number of people you are responsible for: 180
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 3
Nationality: Arnel is Australian and Lopez is Spanish

05. Amin Kadrie, Chairman, Skelmore Hospitality Group

The Roberto’s Restaurant and Lounge brand has won more awards in its short history than any other similar outlet, according to Kadrie. The brand has won several industry awards acknowledging its ongoing success, and two Michelin-starred chef Enrico Bartolini has signed on as chief culinary advisor for Roberto’s Group. Skelmore Hospitality Group’s vision is to become a global player, and the addition of new appointments, strategic partnerships and global ventures illustrates Kadrie’s commitment. The group operates five concepts in total — alongside Roberto’s and Urban Bistro are Prairie Halal Foods, Sparkling Sky and Simply Gourmet Foods. New additions to the portfolio will see the expansion of its Urban Bistro concept as well as the launch of the Mercato brand, and the opening of Roberto’s Restaurant and Lounge at Abu Dhabi’s Galleria Mall in Q1 2016.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 4
Number of years with this company: 21
Number of years in this role: 5
Number of years working in the Middle East: 35
Number of people you are responsible for: 250
Nationality: Canadian

06. Johnny Tomazos, CEO, FoodFund International

The international portfolio of restaurants are all wholly owned by FFI as the company made the strategic decision not to franchise to maintain Tomazos’ high quality standards. To date, FFI has invested US $15 million in the development of its brands, The Meat Co., Bentley Bistro & Bar, Tribes, Ribs and Rumps, Eat Greek, and Woodchuck. An additional US $5 million is earmarked for new developments, and FFI is growing by 20% YOY. The Meat Co. has followed its successful operation in London with the launch of a second European restaurant in Mykonos. FFI has opened additional Eat Greek sites in several Dubai malls, as well as having received interest to open in international locations. Another branch of Eat Greek and a Tribes outlet will launch in Dubai at the beginning of 2016, and these will be followed by the new Carter & Co. and Brooklyn Café concepts in Dubai. New concept Attic will launch in Bahrain next March, and FFI will end 2016 with the launch of Woodchuck Chicken in Dubai, scheduled for mid-December 2016.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 10
Number of years with this company: 8
Number of years in this role: 4
Number of years working in the Middle East: 4
Number of people you are responsible for: 600+
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 10
Nationality: South African/Greek

07. Captain A.M. Simreen, Founder and Managing Director, Royal Catering

As managing director of Abu Dhabi-based Royal Catering, Simreen is responsible for the overall supervision, guidance and vision for the company, which manages an array of catering projects for weddings, sporting events, contract catering, corporate and private functions and fundraisers throughout the UAE. Established in 2003, Royal Catering is the official caterer for leading oil and gas and hospitality companies in the region, as well as being the chosen catering company for the prestigious Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The company also operates several F&B outlets. The Catch Seafood Restaurant and Lounge on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, and the Rozanah Lebanese Restaurant, Cafe D’Alsace, and The Venue events space in Yas Marina, all aspire to raise the standard of culinary innovation, quality, and customer service excellence across Abu Dhabi. During his professional career, Simreen’s philosophy has been that ‘Success has no shortcuts’, and this motto is reflected in his work ethic.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 12
Number of years with this company: 12
Number of years in this role: 12
Number of years working in the Middle East: 35
Number of people you are responsible for: More than 1,700
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 5
Nationality: Palestinian

08. Markus Thesleff, Co-Founder, Whissle Hospitality

With international expertise in the fields of hospitality, F&B, marketing and brand consultancy, Thesleff brought a new dimension to the UAE when he created the Okku brand, together with Ramzy Abdul-Majeed. Whissle Hospitality is committed to developing home-grown concepts; the company also launched gastro-café Sophie’s and Riva Ristorante, Bar and Beach, on the Palm Jumeirah. Expanding its portfolio, Whissle launched Claw BBQ, Crabshack & Grill in Souk Al Bahar in 2013, and the Cielo Sky Lounge and Casa de Tapas at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club in 2014.

Innovation is at the heart of Thesleff’s brand portfolio, and he won the Restaurateur of the Year award at the 2014 Caterer Awards, and Okku and Claw also received Caterer Awards in 2015. He is also a champion of local talent, and his teams are encouraged to attend courses to hone their crafts. The Okku sommeliers, sake sommeliers and bar team, for example, are taking Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualifications, with some going on to win Caterer Awards themselves as recognition of their talents. And watch this space as Caterer is aware of a few concepts in development — we’re hoping they come to fruition in 2016!

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 5
Number of years with this company: 6
Number of years in this role: 6
Number of years working in the Middle East: 7
Number of people you are responsible for: 400+
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 8
Nationality: Finnish

09. Joy Ghossoub, Managing Director, Jas Hospitality

Ghossoub believes that his background in marketing, real estate and media affords him expertise in developing and delivering diverse concepts from luxury fine dining and casual eateries to nightlife hot spots. Having spent four years at global communications company, MenaCom Group, he went on to found and manage his own talent agency in Dubai. In addition, he co-owned The Palladium Dubai and was a silent partner in several nightlife venues in the region. Now a partner in Jas Hospitality, Ghossoub has been responsible for bringing two concepts to Dubai. The Fumé Neighbourhood Eatery brand has outlets in Dubai Marina’s Pier 7 and Manzil, Downtown Dubai, while Qbara Restaurant Lounge and Bar is located in Wafi City.

Jas Hospitality strives to deliver great food, lively entertainment, and friendly, efficient service at all its outlets, and Ghossoub intends to further strengthen the company’s reputation throughout 2016. New market expansion and further development within existing markets are in his sights, and the new Beef & Bass concept is scheduled to open in March next year.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 9
Number of years with this company: 5
Number of years in this role: 4
Number of years working in the Middle East: 11
Number of people you are responsible for: Around 400
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 3
Nationality: Lebanese

10. Aline Kamakian, CEO, Mayrig

Along with her cousin Serge Maacaron, Kamakian opened the first Mayrig restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon in June 2003. The traditional Armenian restaurant aimed to introduce diners to the homely, healthy recipes and forgotten flavours of ancient Armenia. Since then, Kamakian has ventured into new concepts in the Lebanese market, with the launch of M Catering in 2004, Batchig in 2013, and Made by Mayrig in 2014. She also opened a branch of Mayrig in Jeddah in 2011, another in Dubai in 2013, and one more in Riyadh in May of this year. In each Mayrig franchise, every small detail aims to convey the charm, authentic atmosphere, and hospitable spirit of the original Mayrig outlet in Beirut. Kamakian personally strives to ensure that the high quality of food and service is not compromised as she shares her traditional recipes in each of the various franchises. It was, in part, this dedication and attention to detail that was recognised when, in December of last year, Kamakian was voted Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in the Brilliant Lebanese Awards, organised by BLC Bank.

Kamakian already has plans in the pipeline for further outlets in the Middle East. She expects to open Mayrigs in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, as well as a Batchig branch in Kuwait, and both a Mayrig and a Batchig restaurant in Egypt. Expansion into Europe is also a top priority for 2016, which should put her goal of spreading Armenian culture and cuisine worldwide well within her grasp.

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