Return of the Reif

Reif Othman speaks to Caterer Middle East about his future plans
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Although now in his 40s, Othman exudes the energy and enthusiasm of chefs half his age. While others may have been downhearted by the way events had gone over the past year, Othman is palpably excited to start the next stage in his career.

So what is next? Well, a new Othman restaurant is on the horizon, and a return for The Experience — his intimate dinner concept which seated only 12 and was catnip for critics — but more on them later, first on Othman’s radar is using his name to help Dubai’s troubled restaurant industry.

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With Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera the latest big name to fall — and more expected to follow in the coming months — Othman wants to turn his attention to promoting some of the concepts he feels are being undervalued by Dubai’s foodie community.

Craft Cafe, Slab, and Waka. Three homegrown concepts that have received rave reviews while struggling to get the numbers through the door it would seem they deserve.

“There’s no footfall at Slab,” Othman explains to us. “Sad to say the place is not moving as fast as what La Mer sold to the owner. I want to do what I can with my followers and do a collaboration with chef Omar.”

It’s part of Othman’s plan to help drive traffic to some of his favourite restaurants and get them back in the public consciousness. He says: “I just want to help out a few homegrown brands and give that awareness rather just focus on the big boys. I think Dubai needs to focus on the homegrown boys and support them, that’s my vision.”

Each of Othman’s collaborations with his chosen concepts will allow him to stretch his creative muscles in different ways (“With Waka I will go in high-end because of the area and then Craft I will go street-side so it will balance out.”) while also providing some much-needed support. Now for the first time in a long time he has the ability to do what he wants.

“For the past 10 years I’ve been so focused on my job,” he says. “Play was really taking a lot of time so I had no time do what I want to do and with Sumosan it was a lot of travelling: London, Monaco, Moscow. Let’s take a break for now, help a little bit in the society of Dubai.”

Shaking his head, Othman talks of encouraging his peers: “The morale of the chefs in Dubai right now… ‘I might lose my job, I might not get a job’, but guys don’t think that far, let’s do something!”

There’s no doubt that Othman wields plenty of influence in the industry, and his first pop-up of 2019 at High Joint in Dubai’s Al Safa sold out within a day, but it remains to be seen if he can help turn the tide on a struggling restaurant just by making an appearance. There are surely deeper issues at play than just awareness?

Othman believes that landlords need to say “let’s do this together” with their tenants rather than chasing them out in search for another quick payday. “I think landlords should keep their tenants and prolong their stay rather than money, money, money… They’d rather keep the place empty than continue your lease, it’s sad but it’s true.”

It’s part of the reason why Othman isn’t opening a new restaurant right now, instead saying he is “seeing what the market is like this year” with a view to opening up his next venture after the summer. He says he’s planning to “take it slow” and wait until he is in a position that he can “negotiate a better price on the rent”.

He adds: “Moving forward I think next is to find a good investor to work with that understands F&B,” explaining that he is looking at something with a small capacity and mid-tier pricing so that “people can go every day. I want to make sure that families with kids and friends can go to have good food.”

The search for the investor is underway with Othman saying there’s a few in the frame but that he “needs them to know that it used to be two years you got your money back, now that’s moved to five years. Let’s not go rushing in, grow the brand slowly.”

For now though, the focus is on helping his fellow chefs be the best they can be, and hopefully it results in a few ground-breaking homegrown restaurants sticking around to achieve their dreams.

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