Dubai Retail’s homegrown restaurant management company JRG Dubai’s rebrand to Sarood Hospitality has been making headlines. Here, Nabil Ramadhan, chief executive officer of Dubai Retail & Sarood Hospitality and Spencer Ayers, managing director at Sarood Hospitality discuss the strategic move.
Please tell us more about the rebranding and what it’s going to achieve for the group.
Ramadhan: The creation of Sarood Hospitality comes as Dubai Retail aims to reinvent a number of its unique F&B outlets to continue to be ahead of market trends, while meeting the needs of increasingly sophisticated consumers.
Sarood Hospitality is much more than a name; it’s a vision and philosophy that sets a clear direction for Dubai Retail’s future as an independent leader in restaurant management and world-class concept development born in Dubai. In this sense, the name change is a reflection of the organisation’s aim to become a leading and market-dominating hospitality company that disrupts and challenges the status quo, with unique and sustainable concepts which go beyond expectations.
Ayers: The rebrand has been in the process for some time, chiefly as a strategic conduit for expansion beyond the Jumeirah footprint. The launch of JRG Dubai’s first two venues outside of Jumeirah-owned properties in December 2019 (The Duck Hook and Hillhouse Brasserie, housed at Dubai Hills Golf Club) highlighted the potential of the JRG Dubai brand portfolio and acted as a major milestone in the organisation’s growth cycle.
Why “sarood”? Can you tell us more about the name and what it means for the essence of the new brand?
Ramadhan: Sarood Hospitality is derived from the Arabic word “sarood”, which refers to the traditional woven mats decorated elaborately and used in the presentation of food during meals. Sarood Hospitality is interwoven in the fabric of the emirate, drawing its inspiration from its roots in Emirati heritage and how age-old cultural practises and norms remain relevant in modern UAE society.
What’s in the pipeline for Sarood? What developments can we expect for the rest of 2019 and the coming years?
Ayers: As a full-service hospitality brand, Sarood Hospitality’s portfolio includes Al Nafoorah, The Noodle House, Pierchic, Flow, The Duck Hook, Hillhouse Brasserie, Khaymat Al Bahar, Pai Thai, Perry & Blackwelder’s, Segreto and Trattoria Toscana. Immediate expansion plans are in the pipeline, and our focus remains on driving domestic growth, meeting current market trends and upgrading experiences to fit customers’ evolving interests.
Aside from a new look and feel, the Sarood Hospitality team has undergone an extensive period of internal review over the last six months that will define the overall business moving forward – from key strategic developments in our areas of operation, expansion and development, to noteworthy changes in terms of defining work culture.
We currently have concepts in the final stages of development and due to open in 2020. We recently launched the expansion of The Noodle House brand with the addition of four new venues: Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) in September 2019, Nakheel Mall on The Palm Jumeirah in November 2019, the upcoming Dubai Hills Mall in February 2020 and our first entry into the UAE capital, a new restaurant at Reem Mall on Reem Island, in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Future plans include extensive refurbishment programmes of existing restaurants, driving key talent acquisitions and progressing digital transformation across the group’s portfolio.
Please give us details on the refurbishment programmes of existing restaurants, key talent acquisitions and digital transformations in store for Sarood.
Ayers: In terms of refurbishments, to give one example, Pai Thai is undergoing extensive enhancements this summer and will temporarily close to allow for the completion of renovations. Following thorough planning, we’re very excited that Pai Thai is embarking on such a major transformation. While the restaurant’s award-winning signature dishes will remain untouched, the new look of our much-loved concept will significantly enhance the overall consumer and dining experience. The brand-new Pai Thai will be worth the wait and will re-open in October 2019.
Our current focus is on the expansion of our existing brands. Aside from the four new outlets at The Noodle House, we’ll also have a new Flow venue set to open in Q1 2020. In the coming months, we’ll also see the evolution of Khaymat Al Bahar – a recent addition to our portfolio – into a second venue of our successful traditional Lebanese brand, Al Nafoorah. We have concepts in the final stages of development, due to open in 2020
Ramadhan: We appointed Spencer Ayers as Sarood Hospitality’s managing director in June 2019 to enhance our regional and international status, and embrace adaptability and accessibility as pillars of our future growth.
As a seasoned business leader, Spencer’s pivotal roles within the hospitality industry in both the UK and UAE have delivered a wealth of international experience.
As a specialist in franchising and turnaround transformation, Spencer’s strategic skills, comprehensive experience and deep understanding of international concept development will be invaluable in the next phase of our growth, as we usher Sarood Hospitality into a new and exciting era.
Ayers: With the expansion of our brand offerings, we’ve made several senior, strategic appointments to expand our talent pool.Maria Bloss was appointed as head of sales, tasked with managing and expanding the Group’s renowned premium casual dining brand portfolio. Additionally, Steven Holloway and Stefan Borchardt were appointed as operations manager and brand chef for The Noodle House, which is quickly expanding with four new outlets set to open.
Tech and digital platforms have been major game changers in the F&B industry – one of our immediate focus areas is progressing digital transformation across the group’s portfolio as part of an aggressive wider initiative by our parent company Dubai Holding.
It’s one of our intentions to become a tech-enabled platform; we want AI integration woven right from BOH inventory and purchasing through to FOH service driving an enhanced, truly personalised customer experience.
Ayers: At Hillhouse Brasserie, for example, we’ve recently installed a smart kitchen garden for growing herbs – a farm-to-table journey of less than 12 feet! With The Noodle House openings, interactive screens will form part of the guest journey, but this is just the beginning.
The advancement of technology allows restaurants to utilise digital platforms, and customers to find restaurants, read reviews and decide where to go/as well as bringing the restaurant experience to them. The guest journey needs to focus on convenience and experience, and technology helps achieve the same along with personalisation options.
What aspect of the F&B industry are you most interested in focusing on/tackling following the rebrand to improve overall customer experience?
Ramadhan: In addition to improving customer experience via refurbishments and operations following the hire of new talent, we’re looking at several other ways to improve overall customer experience.
Looking at the market, there’s more room for homegrown concepts – unique, fun-dining, creative venues inspired by a multi-cultural and social media savvy generation of culinary “artists”.
There’s a call for more ethical and sustainable business practices across numerous industries including F&B – this demand is already there, we see customers opting for brands and venues who are taking the stance to work with local farmers, committed to using ethically-sourced produce, removing plastic from FOH operations, working with suppliers to introduce alternatives to single-use superfluous plastic, supporting operations that look at minimal wastage/ food donations and more…
What do you think sets Sarood apart from other groups?
Ayers: As we evolve and step into a new era, we’ll be rolling out our aligned core values and a robust CSR strategy – shoring up all of the achievements made by JRG Dubai in the last few years including introducing popular homegrown F&B concepts and shaping the F&B industry’s sustainable operational practices.
Fundamentally, we’ll look to further what we have successfully created as JRG Dubai, elevating the city’s F&B landscape with a vision for further expansion and cementing our efforts to introduce the latest in sustainable innovation within a progressive working culture.
Our focus on diversification and the empowerment of people sets us apart. As part of the rebrand, we’re cementing our work culture and values; Sarood – formerly JRG Dubai – has always been an independent restaurant group, as such our people and teams have always been empowered to function independently, driving our concepts, constantly working to improve our operational practices and wider team development.
As part of the entire exercise and planning around the Sarood rebrand, we have unearthed our core values and are outlining a robust roadmap for the wider working culture at Dubai Retail (inclusive of Sarood); these values that have been embedded in JRG’s working culture are being cemented and articulated within the wider repositioning of the Group, and the people power piece is a key element within the wider working culture philosophy.
What are your plans for Expo 2020 and how are you planning on being a part of the exhibition?
Ramadhan: The focus on food and beverage offerings as we lead up toward Expo 2020 is exciting for both the industry at large and for the Dubai dining scene as a whole. Dubai is a hub for some of the world’s most popular concepts, from homegrown to world-first restaurants. The city is fast becoming recognised as a global culinary destination with its own burgeoning food culture.
With a rise in visitors for Expo 2020, brands will experience new opportunities as tourists/ exhibitors look to dine in new and exciting ways. The Expo 2020 itself is looking to create an International Food Hub, offering tourists and visitors alike options to suit a myriad of tastes, budgets and dietary preferences. It’s an exciting time for homegrown brands across the city to tap into an international audience, take advantage of the AI and innovation on showcase specific to the F&B sector, and truly further position Dubai as a global dining destination.
Our target is to be 100% free from single-use plastic by Expo 2020.
Why is sustainability your priority and how are you planning on keeping it “green”?
Ramadhan: As we evolve and step into a new era, we’ll be rolling out our aligned core values and a robust CSR strategy – shoring up all of the achievements made by JRG Dubai in the last few years including introducing popular homegrown F&B concepts and shaping the F&B industry’s sustainable operational practices. Fundamentally, we’ll look to further what we’ve successfully created as JRG Dubai and elevate the city’s F&B landscape with a vision for further expansion and cementing our efforts to introduce the latest in sustainable innovation within a progressive working culture for the good of tomorrow.
There’s a call for more ethical and sustainable business practices across numerous industries including F&B – this demand is already there, we see customers opting for brands and venues who are taking the stance to work with local farmers, commit to using ethically-sourced produce, removing plastic from FOH operations, working with suppliers to introduce alternatives to single-use superfluous plastic, supporting operations that look at minimal wastage/ food donations and more…
Ayers: Sarood – formerly JRG Dubai – was one of the first F&B operators to lead an industry-wide shift in banning the use of single-use plastics, starting with straws. Following Freedom Pizza’s market-leading stance back in Jan 2018, The Noodle House immediately followed suit and banned the use of plastic straws, cutlery, cocktail sticks and stirrers across all its outlets; the initiative was then rolled out across the Group’s other brands by Q2 2018.
In October last year, The Noodle House, which offers home delivery, made the switch to using fully compostable delivery packaging in Q4 2018. In December 2018, the Group’s newest brands which opened at the Dubai Hills Golf Club – The Duck Hook and Hillhouse Brasserie – opened with completely plastic-free FOH operations, even serving house-filtered water in glass bottles.
In March 2019, Pierchic hosted the Sustainability Summit with a panel of UAE F&B heavyweights, led by Dr Martin Blake, to discuss current issues and opportunities within the sector such as tackling single-use plastics and ethical product sourcing methods; the panel also explored potential cost saving actions that could impact restaurants’ bottom line.
In June, Pierchic reiterated its commitment to ethically sourced produce with a dedicated sustainable menu, marking World Oceans Day. We have recently undergone an extensive audit of both our FOH and BOH functions to outline an aggressive action plan to rid ourselves entirely of plastic – partnering with Pure Cog we’re currently working to replace plastic cling wrap with a non-harmful biodegradable substitute.
As the world grows more aware of our role in preserving the environment, we’ll see customers calling for F&B operators to adopt more sustainable practices and support local producers and suppliers (thereby also reducing carbon footprint). As we mentioned previously, our target is to be 100% free from single-use plastic by Expo 2020.