If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, it is no wonder that the food and beverage sector (F&B) is doing so well, particularly in the hustle and bustle of booming Dubai.
Sitting in the plush surroundings of The Ivy at Dubai’s Emirates Towers, and surrounded by names running from ET Sushi to the Rib Room, Phil Broad, the managing director of Jumeirah Restaurants looks understandably pleased.
Jumeirah Restaurants is the branded restaurant division within Jumeirah Group, and it is tasked with setting up and licensing the casual dining concept to its international network of partners.
The Noodle House was the first restaurant brand to be developed and it is considered to be the flagship of the division, with licence agreements already signed in eleven countries on a global level.
The company also has the rights to develop a number of brands from the Caprice Holdings group across the Middle East and North Africa, including Rivington Grill, Scott’s, Annabel’s and The Ivy.
Other concepts include Sana Bonta, Urbano, AllFreshCo, Rice + Spice and The Flaming Revolution, all of which have been developed by Jumeirah Restaurants.
“The good thing about Dubai is, in the last four years, we have seen nearly 500 restaurants open in malls alone. That shows that people have confidence in F&B,” says Broad.
The best way to describe Jumeirah Restaurants’ performance in the sector is really in terms of the number of developments they have been signing globally.
Before moving any further, Broad does admit that 2008 was a difficult period for a large number of people, adding that it took a couple of years for their partners to get back on a stable footing. But he also points out that the group is now starting to see promising energy in terms of new openings.
“The main growth vehicle for our company is creating the Noodle House business around the world,” he says.
“We have a whole raft of openings coming up this year. We’ve got Dubai Mall opening, we’ve got Bahrain, which starts training next week, we’ve signed Russia and Lebanon,” he points out, adding: “We signed 27 restaurants in the United Kingdom, which a big growth market for us… we’re also opening in Morocco around November.”
It looks like Broad’s list of responsibilities is growing rapidly.
“For us, that is excitement. That shows that there is growth in the F&B sector. I think the biggest thing we’re proud of is that the Noodle House was developed in the UAE. In fact, it was developed next door here in the Emirates Towers… and there continues to be massive interest in people around the world who want to talk to us about it,” he says.
But, the road is not as smooth as it seems. Even the high-flying F&B sector has its challenges.
“We need to make sure that there is always a reason for customers to return. Why do customers keep coming back to us? What else can we do to make the experience so much better for a customer?”
“The F&B sector is a tough industry to work in,” Broad continues. “It is not an easy industry. It is late nights, early mornings. It is one of the most difficult industries to work in. Generally, you have to have a passion for it.”
Another hurdle for a large number of companies in the city is the food supply chain.
“We are importing the majority of products into Dubai. There are very limited local ingredients that we can purchase…but [we] have a very well-organised professional food supply chain that really helps us make sure that every ingredient we are buying is to our specification, so that we can maintain the quality,” explains Broad.
It’s clear that in order to keep its sales high, Jumeirah Restaurants has to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack.
“We have got to have great quality food, great people, and the biggest challenge is actually maintaining that every day. It is not easy to deliver consistent, amazing products for our customers [on a daily basis],” he says.
But by far the biggest challenge Broad constantly faces is maintaining the growth of the business.
“I think that growth is underestimated. If this year, we are going to open in Lebanon, Russia, Pakistan, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we have to make sure that all people involved are trained properly. It is underestimated how much time and effort that takes to make sure we do justice to people that join us,” he says.
Jumeirah Restaurants has a three-year growth plan. The division has always said it would have 150 restaurants in its pipeline, and it appears to be sticking to those ambitious plans.
“We are still very confident that we will achieve that. We have got over 100 in development agreements to open… the key is to focus on finding great partners to work with, to do franchising with, ones that understand the business, that respect and protect the brand when it is open in their own countries,” says Broad.
One of the brand’s main pillars has been its dedication to introducing healthier options. That does come in handy, especially with the growing number of individuals wanting to lead a more health-conscious lifestyle.
The group, for instance, has made a statement confirming that its menus will be trans-fat free and MSG-free: “if you ask many operators if they are MSG-free, they will say no, because the flavour cannot be the same,” says Broad.
“We spend a lot of time making sure that our food has great flavour, that customers love it, and come back, without MSG in it. We work with our manufacturers to make sure we are clean of MSG,” he adds.
That aside, the group dedicates long hours of work to develop healthier menus, ones that work hand-in-hand with those suffering from diseases like diabetes.
“At the Noodle House, for instance, we had every menu item validated by a laboratory to say exactly what was in it. So, we declared our calorie count on the website,” says Broad, adding: “You’ll see in the majority of our menus in Jumeirah Group as a whole, that we have diabetic options available.”
To Broad, healthy does not mean flavour-free: “We continue to look at how we produce food, how we cook it, to protect the health of our customer, as well as the flavour of the food…healthy does not mean no flavour,” he says.
Jumeirah Restaurants does have a good head on its shoulders. But, for now, Broad does not want to bring in more restaurants. On the contrary, he wants to invest in what he already has under his umbrella.
The division has created a number of restaurants in several of its hotels: “As we sit in Emirates Towers, we’ve got [the Lebanese] Al Nafoora, we’ve got the Rib Room upstairs, we’ve got [the Japanese] Tokyo at the Towers, among others…and any of these brands have the potential to become international,” says Broad.
Having said that, he does not necessarily think that they need to go out and search for working opportunities with other individuals: “For me, it’s more about how we do the same that we have done with the Noodle House, not just regionally, but internationally.”
For the time being, then, Broad will continue to fuel home-made brands and feed foreign individuals a taste made, uniquely, in Dubai.
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