HEART ON THE LINE: Ahmass Fakahany
Ahmass Fakahany entered the hospitality industry later than most. Growing up across different countries and cultures (from Cairo to Switzerland to England), Fakahany always had a passion for restaurants, but ended up making his fortunes in the finance world. He tells Caterer Middle East during a trip to Dubai: “I didn’t let go of the passion that I had for it. As I thought about what’s next, I thought I’d reinvent myself and go back to the thing that I had a natural feeling for. And I gave it a go, basically.”
He admits that the discipline he learned from Wall Street life helped him tremendously. “Discipline and the whole financial planning, forecasting and real estate is really important because this can hurt you in the F&B world. And the third is leadership: developing people, resource management, creating a culture, which in F&B, people aren’t investing in as much.”
And after entering the industry in New York, Fakahany is ready for his next challenge: the Middle East. Atelier House Hospitality, an Altamarea Group subsidiary and full-service hospitality and asset management firm based in New York City, has launched its first Dubai office, and already has plans for F&B debuts in the country. Atelier House Hospitality in Dubai is supported by an international track record that includes 17 restaurants worldwide, in Hong Kong, Istanbul, London, New York and other parts of the United States.
Fakahany explains what Atelier House Hospitality will do. “One, it is a consulting and an advisory unit, it is also an asset management and operations unit, and three, we are a brand provider to Dubai with brands from the US and New York City. Hopefully, we can also be a brand transmitter from the Gulf region to New York or the US.”
He reveals: “We are working on bringing our flagship, Marea, to DIFC. That will be coming before the end of year. That’s one example of being a brand provider.
“Equally, we are developing a brand here locally called Mohalla, which is an Indian street food concept that we thought might work here. We are launching that at Dubai Design District, which is where our offices are located.”
Fakahany added: “One came from New York, the other was created indigenously — and without naming clients, we have already started doing conceptual design work and consulting.”
In addition, Ristorante Morini is also set to make its way from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Riyadh, while the company has partnered with Khofo to launch the fine-dining Egyptian concept in Marsa Al Seef, Dubai Creek.
Fakahany asserts that Atelier House Hospitality will take the learnings from operating restaurants with Altamarea Group and help the industry. “People have great ideas but they don’t know how to manage them well. Or they have the capital and they don’t know how to create the concepts that they have envisioned. That is more of the intellectual capital arm, but it’s also the brand player,” he says.
With the brands he plans to launch in the region, Fakahany says a few important elements need to be adhered to. “First of all, if you bring a brand over, it has to be a brand that has a core that can be flexible for the local market. I call it going ‘glocal’ which means you can have a global feel with a local footing,” notes Fakahany,
He comments that what is appealing about Dubai is that “it’s an international city”. He admitted that while there are many F&B outlets in Dubai, the current situation is a natural maturity cycle of F&B. “The consumer will win — there will be better restaurants and better quality, aligned with needs and the technology revolution in F&B. There’s enough density in Dubai, there’s enough traffic coming through here, and there are also varied consumers. It has the ingredients of a multi-faceted F&B city. Not the same as London or New York, but still one of those big ones that has different tonalities and different needs,” he added. And once Dubai is established, he says, other Gulf countries will follow — although its first Riyadh restaurant has already been confirmed.
Keeping a firm control on the concepts is important, he stresses. “We’d like to focus on quality control and keep the concepts and be intelligent on the capital sourcing for these concepts versus the more traditional ‘here’s an idea, just franchise it’. More than anyone, I understand the stress that people are talking about in the markets right now but I must be honest with you: I’m in New York City, we have 35,000 restaurants, we have tough regulatory processes, it’s very hard operating there so I think we understand more than anyone what it is to compete viciously.”
Fakahany does say that he doesn’t think Dubai is too far behind, and thinks there is going to soon be a more discerning palate in Dubai. “It’s going to put pressure on marketing being better, on quality, and on operators being more efficient. I think Dubai is entering that cycle, which once it goes through it or partly goes through, there will be a much better product for everybody. It’s hard but we have gone through it elsewhere,” he notes.
Coming back to his venture in the Middle East, he’s keen to not take a route where his team members fly in for an opening and then turn about and go home immediately — which happens with many an international concept, leaving experiences differing from one week to the next.
Fakahany says that he has been building a team on the ground, with chefs from New York moving to the region or working closely with the international team. “What I feel good about is creating a team with shared values, a team that will talk cross border all the time. We have the ingredients to blend the team, to create a communication path, to have a shared value structure, because this is not a deal where we’re opening, skimming off the top and going home. We have to make this successful and speak to the brand in New York and vice versa. It’s different from being a franchise or a licence. We have our hearts on the line,” confides Fakahany.