Born in Beirut and raised in the UK, Rama Mamlouk spent her teenage years exploring the underground food venues in downtown London. Later on, while studying at the American College of London, she took short cooking classes which contributed to developing her affinity for high culinary standards that she takes pride in today.
The Lebanese civil war also forced Mira El Lozi to flee her homeland at a young age. She grew up in Paris and Washington DC, where she graduated from the American University, exploring her passion for food presentation, tablescaping, event planning and interior decoration.
Counting their Lebanese origin, trilingual ability, nomadic upbringing, and passion for food among their main similarities, the two met in Dubai and quickly started working on Circle Cafe, a New York-Style bagel cafe which opened in Media City in 2002.
From a team of 15 employees the company has grown into a group – Radius Group – that currently employs more than 400 staff. Circle Café’s casual dining concept is now present in 20 locations across the UAE.
“We really did not have any plans to expand initially,” Mamlouk says. “We started as a ‘mom and pop shop’, but when we saw the loyal customer base we had built, we became confident that our concept would be successful.
“As it is the case in any business, scaling up the operation and moving from a one shop to a network of shops in various locations surely brought many challenges including staffing, training, consistency, quality and cost controls, logistics and operations and purchasing, just to name a few.
“We overcame them by learning how to delegate, learning how to hire the right people and being organised, and efficient.”
The co-founders marked a ten-year anniversary in business by launching a new concept, Sushi Counter. It now has branches across the UAE while the first outlet in KSA is due to open in March 2017.
“A rewarding aspect is that we were able to take our own risk and eventually reap the reward,” says El Lozi. “It almost became like a game, the more we played, the better we became at it.
“The least rewarding aspect of our journey would probably be the lack of sleep that comes with owning your own business.”
To cater to fans of the brand who have a busy lifestyle, the co-founders developed Little Circle, a new grab-and-go concept that will be mainly offered in office buildings, hospitals, banks and universities. The first Little Circle will open in Dubai Science Park this month.
Their two-decades long friendship and business relationship, Mamlouk says, is like a good marriage. “Many factors play a big role in the success of our relationship,” she says. “We both share the same belief system, we both know what triggers each other's tempers, we read each other's minds and know each other’s flaws.
“This ‘intuitive’ relationship we have built throughout the years helps when it comes to problem solving and decision making. We've created our own silent language where we know what the other person is thinking without even having to say it.
“This solid foundation makes it so much easier for us to agree on so many decisions despite the fact that we both have polar opposite characters,” adds El Lozi. “We can playfully criticise, argue, and tease each other because it is all based on a genuine life-long bond.
“Our advice to other co-founders is to leave their egos on the side, embrace the natural bond that initially brought them together as friends, take advantage of the natural complicity that comes with a friendship, and work as a proper team with the same goal in mind.
“Communication is key, transparency, accepting each other’s weaknesses, and most importantly putting their ‘friends’ hat’ back on outside of business hours and switching off shop talk on the weekends.”