Naim Maadad, CEO of Gates Hospitality, one of Dubai’s most successful homegrown hospitality investors, is ready to take London by storm with the company’s first international venture.
By Crystal Chesters
All this and the dust has only begun to settle on two highly-anticipated outlets that opened at Madinat Jumeirah earlier this year – Folly by Nick & Scott in partnership with well-known Dubai-based chefs Nick Alvis and Scott Price, and French apres-ski venue Publique, the investor’s second venture with Julien Pilard and Jonathan Vercoutere following Bistro Des Arts. By the end of this year, the company will have 10 operating units in total.
Underlining Gates’ expansion is Maadad’s philosophy of plugging the right solutions in the right locations rather than the other way around. “Unlike other operators, I’m not selling any brands; I’m not knocking on the door of a hotel saying, ‘I have this brand’. I’m looking at a site and thinking, what would fit with this site? What’s missing in the neighbourhood? What is the potential?” says Maadad during an interview with Catering News at one of the company’s venues, Reform Social & Grill. “We find a vacuum and we find a solution for that vacuum and we plug it in.”
The model for Via Veneto, located in the space previously occupied by Fume Downtown Dubai on Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard, is “simple”, according to Maadad. With 226 covers in total, downstairs will be a casual café concept offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with pizza, ciabattas, paninis and focaccias on the menu, while upstairs will be a dining room/ bar area, with a full à la carte menu. Explaining why he felt Italian was the right fit for this location, Maadad says: “The boulevard is very Italian but there’s no Italian restaurant. Everyone eats pizza and pasta, so from an audience perspective we’re closing that gap. Foodies can go upstairs and have alcohol and more sophisticated food, whereas downstairs it’s equally healthy, fresh and tasty but more comfort food-focused. I’m making sure that I complement the offer [on the boulevard] rather than competing. Italian makes a lot of sense; we found a gap, we found a solution and we’re plugging it in.”
“Unlike other operators, I’m not selling any brands; I’m not knocking on the door of a hotel saying, ‘I have this brand’. I’m looking at a site and thinking, what would fit with this site? What’s missing in the neighbourhood? What is the potential?”
The concept has been 18 months in the making and the team is moving fast to get it open and operating this summer. At the helm of the kitchen is chef Maxime Le Van, the previous executive chef of Boca Dubai and head chef of Grosvenor House Dubai, with the menu featuring modern presentations of traditional Italian recipes and a focus on quality, freshness and textures. Developing talent is another important aspect of Gates Hospitality and Maadad is confident that Le Van is the right chef to take the concept forward. “I believe in Maxime as a chef,” comments Maadad. “I often refer to Nick and Scott as having changed the food scene in Dubai and I think Maxime is one of these guys to – focusing on quality and the fundamentals.”
The design is an important aspect of the concept, with a striking façade, black and white design motif, and an accessible, rustic-chic ambience. “We’re turning the façade of the building into a design element so when people stop at the lights, they’ll look up. The whole building will be head-turning, it will stand out like an icon,” Maadad adds.
And if a 226-pax Downtown Dubai venue wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Maadad is ready to move into the international arena this year with an opening in London’s Covent Garden. The venture also marks the international debut for the US-founded modern Chinese concept, RedFarm, which was developed by dim sum master, chef Joe Ng and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfeld, and brings a greenmarket sensibility to modern, inventive Chinese food with rustic décor. Maadad comments: “Covent Garden is an area that caters for the local people and tourists. It has been restored without losing its authenticity, and it’s now more affordable and accessible to many people.
“The business model is very simple and similar to what we’re doing in the UAE. It’s very good food in a modern environment without the price tag or the formalities and I think that’s a global trend. People want good, honest food; they want to see and be seen without having to spend a lot of money. Chinese is a cuisine we like but because of the unhealthy associations, many people shy away from it, so the menu at RedFarm is very healthy and modern.”
The venue is set across four floors, and there are plans for a speakeasy bar on the underground level, with the other three floors dedicated to dining. There are already two RedFarm restaurants operating in New York – in Upper West Side and West Village – and the London venue will mainly feature the same menu as the US locations, with grilled jumbo shrimp, vegetables and red curry; sautéed diced lamb with Chinese broccoli and pickled shallot; and seared live sea scallop, scallop dumpling, watercress and corn sauce just some of the items on offer, in addition to a wide range of dim sum and dumplings, including ‘Pac Man’ shrimp dumplings; crispy duck and crab dumplings; and pan-fried lamb dumpling shooters.
As his workload gets ever heavier, Maadad has appointed Patrick White as his number two. Previously food and beverage operation manager at Habtoor Hospitality, where he worked across five venues, in his new role White will be involved in Ultra Brasserie, Folly by Nick & Scott and Via Veneto initially before expanding his remit to cover the full portfolio.
In addition to ensuring the new projects go well, Maadad is keen to revisit his existing brands to see where improvements can be made. For example, following the recent departure of Chef Ryan Waddell from Reform Social & Grill, the menu has been relaunched with Waddell’s previous number two, Stuart Cuddy, at the helm. Maadad refers to this as “another exciting chapter” for the gastropub.
“We’re calling it the ‘rebirth of the classics’. If we can match the service with the food the chef is putting out then that will be great. It’s very classical and there’s a large pork section, which is a USP of this restaurant – not many others offer that.”
“In 2018, we’ll diversify a lot out of the UAE market; I think Australia and London will be key areas for Gates. We have the know-how, we have the capital, we have the audience and I think these are markets that are very solid from a food perspective and they are advanced and could add value to our business as well”
The business model for Ultra Brasserie is also being revisited and a third location will be rolled out this year at Sharjah University. “I’m looking at the Ultra business model and that will be revived to we’ll be pushing more on the organic, healthy component. In the Sharjah business model, this is an untapped market; it’s a huge population of students that have lunch, cake in the morning or afternoon, coffee – so we need to adapt our menu to suit that. Ultra has legs. Sadly, I haven’t been able to push hard the locations in Dubai because they are difficult to access, but with the new location in Sharjah we’ll put a lot more emphasis on the brand.”
Maadad has pinpointed London and Australia as the key markets for further international expansion, and he doesn’t rule out bringing the RedFarm brand to the UAE or taking his UAE brands to London or Australia – particularly Folly. “In 2018, we’ll diversify a lot out of the UAE market; I think Australia and London will be key areas for Gates. We have the know-how, we have the capital, we have the audience and I think these are markets that are very solid from a food perspective and they are advanced and could add value to our business as well. Internationally, Folly has legs. It wouldn’t necessarily be called Folly elsewhere, but I think that brand would work from day one rather than having too many risks.”
For Maadad, ensuring each one of his venues can stand on its own two feet is key and in order to ensure this he has to pace himself. “I’m looking to do a lot more but it’s baby steps. Everyone in the business needs to be self-sufficient and delivering a strong PnL – otherwise it’s not a business, it’s a headache,” he comments.
“There will be no more this year [after Via Veneto and RedFarm] because I want control – not because I’m a control freak but because I want to deliver. There’s so much happening on the market, it’s dangerous. The business is there but it’s making sure we tap into the markets and understand what we offer.”