Opening a new restaurant in Dubai is difficult at the best of times, with the market oversaturated and consumer spending down, but doing so in the months leading up to a global pandemic is especially tough.
Caterer Middle East spoke with two restaurateurs who opened their concepts in 2020, just prior to the Covid-19 outbreak which has shut down restaurants ‘until further notice’.
“We went through a rollercoaster as a team,” said The Bowl One founder Sheri Mehryar. “Surely, on an individual and organizational level everyone followed similar swings. After all, none of us saw this coming.”
The impact of it can’t be understated. All restaurants have been shut for dine-in for almost a month now, and Soulgreen founder Stefano Percassi has had to redefine his expectations.
He said: “Like everyone else in the market, we have been hit hard, especially considering that we just launched. Our expansion plans for the rest of the year have been delayed. However, we will continue our focus on refining our brand and customer experience strategy and product innovation during these slow times to relaunch again once the outbreak is over.”
While Soulgreen, a pescatarian concept located at Vida Creek Harbour, stepped up its move to delivery to ensure some form of income and maintain a relationship with its fledgling customer base, The Bowl One was forced to close because of the risk the virus posed to Merhyar’s family.
She explained: “Since I am 24 years old, and live at home with my parents, I have to be considerate of their older age. My days are long, and in that period I am exposed to factors beyond my control. Working in a restaurant means deliveries from suppliers and delivery platforms. If something happened to my parents I would never forgive myself. This was purely made out of caution to protect my family, and even though it was untimely, I wouldn’t go back on it unless I could guarantee their full safety.”
When diners do return to restaurants, The Bowl One and Soulgreen will need to start from scratch when it comes to getting their names out there. Something Percassi admits is not a simple task.
He said: “We are new to a relatively over-supplied F&B market. Generally it’s not easy for customers to remember you when there are a thousand other restaurants trying to do the same thing in a city like Dubai. The current situation made it even harder to do so, nobody wants to know about new restaurants amid this situation.”
Despite the situation, Mehryar’s is confident about The Bowl One making its mark once the world reopens.
“The Bowl One was built on pure boldness, so we are far from backing down,” she said. “Everyday I praise that there is opportunity in everything, in absolutely everything; even a global crisis. More importantly, there is learning in roadblocks. Although The Bowl One took a big pause, it also took a hit. But, hits make platinum.
“We have a lot of momentum built, a lot of drive to push back up stronger than ever. And we’re coming back bolder than ever.”