F&B start-ups need to stick to core principles, say entrepreneurs

Founders of various concepts spoke out at the Caterer Middle East Food & Business Conference 2018
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Panel discussion at the Caterer Food and Business Conference
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Panel discussion at the Caterer Food and Business Conference

One of the pitfalls for entrepreneurs, specifically in the F&B space, is to diverge from their core values in the hopes of making money in the short-term.

During a panel discussion at the Caterer Middle East: Food & Business Conference titled 'The UAE’s Next Generation of Restaurateurs – Nurturing Entrepreneurial Spirit', a group of food & beverage concept creators talked about the importance of ensuring they stick to their core values.

Mantoushe founder Sophia Sleiman commented that it was important to have a founding principle and believe in the foundation of why you built something and what it stands for. She continued: "What it [the concept] stands for defines everything, from what you put on your menu, the people you decide to hire, how you market yourself - it all boils down to what principle you’ve set."

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Founder of Moti Roti (which is now closed), Tahir Shah, who also now runs The Food Founder, admitted that he "befell the trappings that capture many entrepreneurs". Shah explained: "I have certain values, but you panic when your sales are not up... Suddenly you're trying to appeal to everyone because you're panicking, and you stray away from founding principles."

He advised others: "If you believe in your principles and people see you believing in them, then [moving away from them] expresses itself when you commercialise and try to please too many people. You betray your vision. As long as you focus on your idea, down to the finest detail... it will take a long time to get there, but you will."

However, Cookies & More founder & head chef Jassim Farukhi contended that consumer demand can sway the game. He gave an example: "Do I maintain a commercial path, or do I stick to my core values? We had approximately, on any given week, around 40-50 people who asked if Nutella is in the cookie." Farukhi did not, at the time, have a Nutella-based cookie, and wasn't planning on creating one. Since then however, the cookie has made it to the menu and is doing well. 

Shah quickly said: "It’s so tempting, but people are fickle here and you can't depend on it."

To that point, Cuisinero Uno CEO and culinary director John Buenaventura said there is a way to make this tactic work. He commented: "On my menu, I have an item that says ‘cinema nachos’. I’m looking at it from an entrepreneurial perspective... if I was looking at it as a chef, I’d put lobster, scallops, and foie gras on the menu. But my nachos - which people are asking for - are paying for my octopus. Yes it's trying to cater to commercial ideas, but you can't divert away from what the concept is. You adapt."

Sleiman concurred. She said: "I totally agree, its about listening to your customers and seeing what they want and have them fit into your values. It’s a balance of both. My principles are not flavour based."

One Life Kitchen & Café founder Necip Camcigil also agreed. He gave an example of how customers were asking for sandwiches at a time when the café was not selling them. Once a suitable supplier of sourdough bread was found, he added it to the menu. Camcigil concluded: "You are catering to your customer needs within your own set of principles. The market never lies, it tells you the truth, because everyone is voting with their money."

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