February 1, 2019 |
Main picture credit: Caterermiddleeast
Commercial developer, serial gastropreneur and all-around tastemaker, Joey has dedicated the past 15 years of his life to creating authentic & inspired experiences. His work on wildly popular concepts across two continents, have launched nearly a dozen dining fads and has been crowned the Top Restauranteur in the Middle East this year by Caterer Magazine which also recognized him as the 4th Most Powerful Independent Restauranteur in the Middle East in their yearly ‘Power 50’ issue for the impact he has made on the Middle East Dining Scene. Born in Montreal and raised in Dubai, Joey’s love for the restaurant business started at the young age of 18 and has endured for over 20 years
Joey moved to Dubai in 2014 to set up Fighterbrands Ltd., and developed The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill, Dubai’s first homegrown New England Seaside Brasserie which Joey transformed an undesirable garage location into a city hot spot. Aside from being the owner operator, Joey also designed the space himself and was very involved in all aspects of brand creation, menu development, recruitment and training. Most recently, Joey developed BARBARY Deli + Cocktail Club which has already cemented itself as a bastion of serious cocktails, excellent food and great music.
What incident/opportunity led to your decision to open this business?
I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 18 years old. I worked my way up the ranks from busboy, to waiter, to manager to head of concept development and marketing for the Morentzos Restaurant Group (MRG), a Canadian based restaurant development company that has opened over 80 outlets since 1989. After leaving MRG in 2010, I set my sights on my native Lebanon, where I created, owned and managed four unique concepts, namely Brgr Co, The Angry Monkey, Cro Magnon Steakhouse & Bar and St. Elmo’s Seaside Brasserie.
The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill is my first restaurant in Dubai, which I created to service a gap I identified in the market for premium casual dining. I felt that Dubai needed something in the great Brasserie tradition of Paris and New York. I was proposed the location for The MAINE while I was working on The Angry Monkey Bar at Stereo Arcade, also at The DoubleTree Hilton. Ironically, this garage location, which was rejected by 7 other people, was exactly the type of off beat location I was looking for, a location with real cache.
What were the three biggest obstacles along the way and how did you overcome each one?
It took me about a year to secure all of the investment that I needed for the project. In that year I had burned through all of my savings before the first investor came on board – securing the space, paying lawyers, paying architects to help me draft the plans and all of my living expenses for the year. I had no choice but to keep going and keep the faith that I would find the right investors eventually, which I did.
Finding the right management team wasn’t easy. In some cases their personalities didn’t work well together and couldn’t work together as a team despite many attempts to foster good relations. It took over 6 months to find a team that could function as a strong unit. It required me to personally spend a solid year on the floor training the managers to make sure that the management reflected the ethos of the business.
Turnover of staff:
Unfortunately it’s the nature of our business to have a high turnover of staff, so it was important for me to do what I could to limit that as much as possible. We implemented an American Tip System, which allowed Waiters to make the most amount possible in their sections and a very generous service charge distribution. We also implemented a mandatory cleaning of the restaurant by the staff every Monday morning. This would ensure that the staff would treat the restaurant as their own piece of real estate.
What were the three most rewarding moments?
ROI – Return on Investment within a year and a half was definitely one of those moments.
Recognition – Winning multiple awards, including Newcomer of the Year 2016, Best Seafood Multiple times, Winning best Independent Restaurant Team of the Year 2018 and Of course, Restaurateur of the Year in 2018.
Repeat Guests – That’s when you know you’re doing something right.
What one piece of advice would you give fellow entrepreneurs?
Ask a lot of Questions. Listen to a lot of people. Take your time before you make any decisions.
What are your thoughts on the future of F&B and the industry?
The market is changing and for good reason. It’s been flooded with real estate developments over the last 18 months and with F&B concepts that can’t possibly keep up with the oversupply. It’s becoming harder to stand out and cut through the noise in todays crowded market. I believe that the future of the F&B industry will be about smaller owner operated restaurants and cafes that can offer a more personalized and value based offering. I also see huge potential in tapping into the suburbs of Dubai which are very under serviced.
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