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Wed 25 Feb 2015 11:38 AM

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This time for Africa: A UAE restauranteur’s bid to crack a new continent

With an overcrowded local market place, Caramel Group’s Mohammed Al Hashimi is looking further afield

This time for Africa: A UAE restauranteur’s bid to crack a new continent

Mohammed Al Hashimi recognised a gap in the food and beverage (F&B) scene in the UAE seven years ago. His business interests in F&B in Las Vegas and Los Angeles made him realise he could “take things to another level.”

Since creating the Caramel Group, Al Hashimi has set up three Caramel restaurant and lounge branches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Nairobi, as well as Mo’s casual dining restaurant in Dubai. Looking for a new challenge, he now wants to look beyond his home market of the UAE, which he believes is now oversaturated with brands from the US, London, Russia and beyond.

“People talk about competition you have in the likes of London and New York. Dubai is far more competitive than all of these… Everyone’s going for that same market, everyone’s going for the top, high end… I don’t want to go somewhere where everyone else wants to go. Any expansion that we’re looking at doing is going to be international.”

As a result, Al Hashimi is looking to Africa for the next phase of Caramel’s development. “People will come to me and say, Africa? I don’t want to go to Africa. It’s not glamorous. Well it’s not the most glamorous place maybe, it’s not Dubai, or London, but it’s, I call it, a virgin territory.”

Though the Emirati businessman says there are risks and an educational process involved in the African region, he is willing to take the leap.

“We’re looking at Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa for Caramel. Another two or three Mo’s this year in Nairobi. Hopefully, we will start construction before the end of this year,” he says. “It’s a very touristic place, if we talk about Cape Town. You’ve got a mix of tourists, locals... There is definitely a gap in the market. We’ll, I think, make a lot of noise over there.”

Closer to home, Al Hashimi believes the UAE market is not as lucrative as it used to be in 2010, when the Caramel restaurant first opened.

“Obviously if you have something that is niche, and a good product and a good service, you’ll do well,” he says. “But it’s not as lucrative anymore. I’ll tell you why because now if you want to take a big brand out of London or Paris or Ibiza or somewhere like that, you pay royalty fees to that brand, so that guy sitting in Paris is making money. The next thing you’ve got to do is you got to pay your landlord here, very high rents because you know this is the market, this is Dubai, you want the best location,” he explains.

“You pay rent, and then after you finish paying that you got to get staff, and you can’t just have staff from Asia, you got to have staff from Europe, you got to get staff from America, because this is the market, and after you got all of that what’s left for you after you pay out all the money… If there’s anything left after you spend all that, that’s going to be your profit,” says Al Hashimi.

So what makes him stay in such a challenging business? After years in the corporate field, the business tycoon says F&B is where his passion lies.

“It’s a business that I enjoy, I think you get to a stage in your life where you think, after working in a corporate world for so many years, you want to do your own thing,” he says. “When you’re doing your own thing, it’s your business. If you make money, it’s on you. If you lose money, it’s on you. You’re not doing it for someone else, you’re doing it for yourself.”

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