Each year we ask for your nominations for the Caterer Middle East Power List. Each year we are inundated with entries telling incredible stories of resilience, innovation and success. There are restaurateurs that take their businesses to new heights, chefs who have helped push the boundaries of region’s F&B scene and pioneers that are helping the industry reach the next level of technological advancement.No-one makes this list without being nominated, and only people at the top of their games, whose achievements are too good to ignore will feature.So, congratulations to all of the industry leaders who habe made it into this year’s Power List. We can’t wait to see what you do next.
Alawi Al Breiki’s hospitality group includes Asian restaurant Wakame, Japanese restaurant Gyuto, health bar and coffee shop BIDAYA and Asian-inspired street food brand Kawai. He is also the master franchisee for Edible Arrangements in the UAE. Al Breiki is actively and passionately involved with each brand and at all levels – from working with chefs to create the menu to ensuring the 80-plus members of the Al Braik Hospitality family are empowered to provide service excellence. Al Breiki saw the pandemic as an opportunity for expansion and evolution, a period that highlighted how important the catering and hospitality industry is, not only as a revenue-driver and employer, but as a way for diners to celebrate or escape. In 2023, he is planning a year of exceptional growth, with joint ventures and franchises on the table.
Antonio Gonzalez co-founded Sunset Hospitality Group in 2011. He has played an integral role in the creation – from inception to launch – of more than 40 venues across nine countries. There are also 20 new openings in the pipeline for before the end of 2023, including in Doha, Riyadh, Manama, and Abu Dhabi. In 2021, Gonzalez set about launching 10 new brands in the UAE and by the end of 2023, Sunset’s existing portfolio will grow by some 33 per cent to more than 60 venues, while establishments in Spain, Italy, and Morocco represent new markets.
Benoit Lamonerie is founder and CEO of 111 Management, overseeing strategic and day-to-day operations of the restaurants under this umbrella. Venues include Caviar Kaspia, Beefbar Dubai, Le Petit Beefbar and La Table. Anything from funding to restaurant development, Lamonerie and his team undertake the entire business both in the short and long term. In 2023, he plans to carefully expand the network of outlets, while early in the year will see the fully-fledged opening of La Table and Le Petit Beefbar in DIFC. Caviar Kaspia will open in Riyadh, while Kaspia at Home will also be part of the expansion into the Kingdom. A beach club is also in the pipeline.
Charbel Mhanna is the chief executive officer of Blackspoon Management. He is currently spearheading the growth of one of the region’s leading award-winning restaurant groups. Leveraging his industry experience of 30 years, he takes charge of business development, chain expansion, and operations and is the man behind the group’s soaring business performance.Under his watch are lauded brands such as Allo Beirut, Ibn Al Bahr, Bombay Bungalow, Nafas and Masti. Spanning numerous market segments and cuisines, Mhanna’s ability to maximise all of his company’s brands is testament to his universal expertise in F&B and natural ability to supercharge businesses in the food world.For Mhanna, innovation remains the core of Blackspoon’s fast-paced development, in which digital transformation and big data allow for compact budget control and streamlined processes. Even operationally, Mhanna puts on his chef hat to bring creativity through menu development, and introduce a great-tasting range ofmenu items to appeal to the UAE’s diverse community.Since Mhanna’s appointment as CEO, the company has achieved over 36 percent growth in its existing outlets and has also advanced towards ISO certification to ensure superior food quality and guest service are at par with global standards.His greater focus remains on restructuring the group from a legal perspective and extending its horizons through effective change management in the kitchen and beyond. This is further strengthened by his lead in digital transformation, which aims to help usher in a new era for the dining sector. To bring his vision to life, Mhanna also spends crucial time setting strategies for customers and overseeing talent acquisition to minimise employee turnover and identify adequate retaining processes.The CEO has an ambitious outlook for the coming year as he’s set to expand the presence of the group’s leading street food restaurant concept, Allo Beirut, across every emirate in the UAE. His plan to set up the deck for franchise and joint venture opportunities anticipates a range of partnerships set to roll out in the coming year. To make the group of restaurants a household name in the GCC and beyond, he will continue to explore the potential of other markets.Whatever the CEO is working on, his mission to improve quality will remain a top priority. Led by the singular aim to outperform every benchmark, Mhanna is motivated to achieve the group’s five-year plan in just a single year.
For those who know David Singleton, seeing his name on this list may come as a surprise. After all, he usually prefers to stay out of the limelight. This year, however, Singleton has launched his own venture, intended to help as many people as he can and spread the positive effect of hospitality to more industries. Oraculi is the result of years of working in boardrooms around the world (40 countries and counting) for Singleton, a business advisory and coaching platform designed to help restaurateurs become their best selves. Already with Oraculi, Singleton has worked with numerous global brands and businesses to help bring them into the UAE.While most of these are under wraps for now, Singleton has already successfully helped bring beloved London bakery Peggy Porschen to the emirates. With an Abu Dhabi pop-up and a more permanent location in the works, Singleton’s in-depth knowledge of the market has managed to convince the eponymous Porschen founders to go global for the first time ever.An F&B expert, Singleton remains an advisory board member of GRIF; director of the British Business Group; and co-founder of MERA, all without payment. Like many on this list, Singleton is driven by a personal love of food and beverage, along with a personal drive for excellence in all that he does.Singleton recognises that the hospitality business has much to offer ‘industry’ and the wider sectors it touches. He talks about Dubai and the UAE being one of the most exciting places to ‘do business’, inspiring a generation of entrepreneurship. He uses his long career in hospitality to enable, inspire and develop the F&B and hospitality industry but everything it touches. This year has been no ordinary 12 months, and Singleton intends to use it as a springboard to 2023 and beyond, developing leaders to ‘be the leader today they want to be tomorrow’ and enabling brands and services to lift the F&B industry in the UAE, turning it into the most exciting City of Hospitality in the world.
As co-founders, Paul Evans and Freek Teusink today lead a company of 1,000 people across three emirates and 22 venues. As Evans drives the business development, management of the organisation, financials and partnerships, Teusink focuses on the innovation of the sectors through creative ideation and the delivery of experiences, UAE-wide. Their synergy and skill has taken the brand from strength to strength, hitting the middle man market to create approachable luxury before navigating the all-new eatertainment sector in more recent times. They have negotiated some of the biggest deals in the industry, including with Atlantis The Palm, Anantara The Palm, Grand Millennium Hotels, Rixos and IHG.
David Lescarret founded Infini Concepts seven years ago. His company is behind the creation of the likes of Miss Tess, TABŪ, CÉ LA VI, Hayal and The Other Side in Dubai, along with the management and consulting of other Dubai hits. For 2023, his company is set to grow dramatically, adding five more venues to the portfolio and also being entrusted to bring a number of international brands to Dubai. Lescarret and Infini Concepts are not only seen as premier dining operators but also experts in the Dubai dining scene itself, becoming a trusted voice for when international operators wish to enter the city.
Deepak Bhatia has a broad and extensive experience of more than 27 years in the hospitality industry. As the CEO of Snowbell Restaurant Management, UAE, he oversees 10 brands spread across 15 outlets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He is also responsible for an expansion plan that he has devised across the upcoming years. Bhatia is working towards process improvement, new business development, P&L management and project expansion. Brands under his remit include Peppermill, Ming’s Chamber and Sugar Factory, with 12 more restaurants opening by the first quarter of 2023.
Elias Madbak leads a team of 438 employees. He identifies opportunities for the existing franchises and signing more winning brands to the RMAL portfolio. He oversees several departments including operations, marketing, human resources, IT, projects, real estate, consulting, and government relations. He also works closely with CFO on all financial aspects of the business. Brands he is responsible for include wagamama, Trader Vic’s and Allo Beirut – Abu Dhabi. In 2022, Madbak oversaw five new restaurant openings. Negotiations are underway for a new brand to enter the market by Q2 of 2023, as well as a second Allo Beirut in Abu Dhabi and wagamama Reem Mall.
As Chairman and co-founder of Fundamental Hopsitality, Evgeny Kuzin oversees operations, business development and new projects. Since 2011, Evgeny has helped elevate the dining and entertainment landscape in the UAE, first with his role at Bulldozer Group and now with Fundamental. Operating the likes of Cipriani Dubai, Gaia Dubai, Shanghai Me Dubai and Scalini Dubai, in the past 12 months, he has launched Cipriani Dolci, with three branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as La Maison Ani in Dubai Mall and Alaya in DIFC, the latest parts of his ongoing collaboration with chef Izu Ani. Gaia and Shanghai Me have also opened in Doha. Soon there will also be a Kitch-In Food Hall in DIFC, with more restaurants to come in 2023.
Gabrielle Mather helps operators with 360 degrees turn-key consultancy and tailor-made services to open, operate and market their restaurants in UAE and GCC. Through her companies, Restaurant Secrets Inc. and Cornerstone 61 she has led all areas of F&B concept development, business plans, interior design, talent acquisition and retention through SOPs and trainings services, menu development, social media and full brand management as well as project management and financial accounting services for restaurants. Successes as a business incubator include Hamptons Café, Doner & Gyros and Mitts & Trays. As an operator, hits include La Serre, Taikun and Distillery. In 2023, Mather will launch an F&B-focused design studio that works on production layout, functionality, work-flow and budgets.
One of the most respected voices in the UAE’s F&B industry, George Kunnappally is closing in on five years with Nando’s, each one more successful than the last.He is responsible for managing and developing the Nando’s business in the UAE and is commonly known to his team as Mr Nando’s, such is his dedication to the company. Kunnappally has 500 staff, all working towards the same shared goals. During his time with the company, he has turned Nando’s UAE into the best-performing market across 10 franchised Nando’s markets globally.Reporting directly to the franchise owner and with a line of communication to the CEO of Licensed Markets (Nando’s franchisor), he has nine direct reports: Operations, Delivery & Compliance, Marketing, People, L&D, Projects & Maintenance, Finance, Supply Chain and IT.Defining the qualitative and quantitative goals and aspirations for the business, on an annual basis, with the franchisor and franchise owner and ensuring his 500-strong team is aligned, shares the vision, is motivated and empowered to achieve and even exceed the targets is his mandate.Over the course of the MD’s 25-year career, he has launched and/or grown brands like Subway, Bateaux Dubai, Charley’s Philly Steaks, Whittard of Chelsea, Second Cup Coffee, Johnny Rockets and a host of UAE-bred concepts in the Middle East, Africa and CIS regions.Since taking up his post at Nando’s in 2018, Kunnappally has injected new life into the UAE business with ambitious new store openings, decisive store closures, market-leading first-mover initiatives, collaborative thought leadership and winning awards and recognition for the brand and team.He opened flagship Nando’s casas (what the company calls restaurants) at The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, making a statement that Nando’s is fully invested in the UAE’s goals and vision. He also closed seven loss- making casas over a period of 4 years to ensure the health and survival of the business.Now, as Nando’s celebrates 20 years in the UAE, he has overseen the opening of new casas at Circle Mall in Dubai’s JVC, Al Jimi Mall in Al Ain (opening December 15, 2022) and a dark kitchen in Dubai Silicon Oasis (which opened in August). More developments are in the pipeline for 2023 as the brand scales up its presence in underserved markets like Abu Dhabi and plans to roll out more dark kitchens in Dubai to reach more customers.A regular on panels, radio shows and at industry events, Kunnappally is also on the advisory boards for UAE Restaurants Group, Middle East Food Forum, Global Restaurant Investment Forum, Arabian & African Hospitality Investment Conference and Fast Food & Café Convention.In doing so, he frequently champions issues that are important not just for Nando’s but also the industry at large, be it equitable lease agreements to ensure a balanced landlord-tenant relationship or preventing third-party delivery aggregators from implementing restrictive trade practices, such as exclusivity clauses, commercially unrealistic commission rates and clubbing of orders and ensuring they play by the rules for the benefit of all restaurant operators.He is described by his team as someone who believes in the inherent goodness of people and his team’s ability to achieve organisational goals and exceed expectations with a little bit of hand-holding, appreciation and encouragement, immense trust and steady direction.
Founder of both Cassette and NETTE, Haider Madani is present every day interacting with staff as well as customers to keep his finger on the pulse of the venues. He oversees the day-to-day business, ensuring quality standards are in keeping with expectations. As the founder, he wants customers to understand the community aspect of the space and is very interactive with clients, acting as the face of the business which also extends to building and maintaining client relationships whether its customers, neighbouring business or suppliers. While 2022 has seen huge inflation of prices of raw materials, produce and food supplies, his outlets’ menu prices have stayed the same during the year. He also introduced ‘keep cups’ in both venues in a bid to get rid of single-use and promote sustainability. Both venues have had organic growth in clientele who come to work from the venues, with Cassette regularly serving 1,000 people over the weekend.
Hassan Ballout is the CEO and co-founder of Limestone Lab, an “Experience Design Studio”, which aims to make change by re-imagining the traditional approach to hospitality spaces and offerings. His first big project with Limestone Lab was Social Distrikt, a Palm Jumeirah dining hall. Ballout has already signed an additional franchise, with another three in the pipeline. A deal for two manchise agreements is almost complete. As a result, Social Distrikt could move into locations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United States, Poland, Romania, Egypt and Morocco. Beyond Social Distrikt, his group recently opened the family-friendly beach club Peaches and Cream, also on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. The 1980’s Miami-inspired venue is on the west side of the palm at the Clubhouse Al Nafura by Shoreline Apartments.
Hashem Montasser founded The Lighthouse with business partner and COO Hany Bassiouny in 2016. As an owner-operator, he drives The Lighthouse Group’s overall operational and business development strategy across its four key divisions, whilst maintaining relationships with all key stakeholders. In 2022, two new restaurants opened in different emirates differing vastly in both look and feel and function and purpose. The Lighthouse Nakheel Mall is considered a community restaurant serving many of The Palm’s residents and tourists, but also focusing on families with a dedicated kids’ menu and designer high chairs. Meanwhile, The Lighthouse in Yas Bay Waterfront is a licensed multi-room concept with a first-of-its-kind library bar, a chef’s table, café, bakery and gift shop. The team also launched The Lighthouse Bakery earlier this year, led by executive pastry chef Waddah Bou Saad. It operates as a physical location at Nakheel Mall and Yas Bay, with a concession at Time Out Market Dubai, and exclusively on Deliveroo as a virtual brand.
Founding The Mattar Farm, reinventing Mattar, representing both the UAE and USA governments as Culinary Ambassador, opening the Farmhouse with Jumeirah, introducing a new restaurant in Meydan, a farm opening in Al Ula, a restaurant opening in Riyadh, a barbecue school in Dubai with DTCM and launching his new venture, TT Enterprises… Hattem Mattar’s role cannot be defined as any one thing.He has introduced smoked and live-fire cuisine to the UAE and has continued to move it forward without breaking stride. Mattar has taken his skills to Egypt, Australia, the US, Brazil, the UK and now, Saudi Arabia. His barbecue has been so well received that the US Embassy and the UAE Embassy have both highlighted his cuisine abroad and used it as an example to build bridges between cultures and people.Today, he has a restaurant in Time Out Market, another planned in Meydan, one in DIFC and two in Saudi Arabia, along with a collaboration with Dubai Tourism on a barbecue school. Without any formal training, Mattar has led teams across the hospitality industry to great success and received acclaim from his customers and his peers alike.He hopes and, more importantly, plans to export the hospitality and flavours of his third culture barbecue abroad. Especially in places like the United States and Europe. “The point of all of this is the cuisine and its capability to tell an Arab story over a common table.” This love of fire and common ground has had Hattem sharing this passion with everyone who will listen (and taste).
Jaime Castaneda is the driving force behind 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant becoming one of the most popular and critically acclaimed restaurants in the UAE, winning a Michelin star for its Abu Dhabi branch.
When he founded the team here in the UAE half a decade ago, he was one of only three employees. Today, the brand as a whole employs close to 100 people, with huge success stories in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Having taken Abu Dhabi by storm with its Japanese fine dining since opening at The Galleria Al Maryah Island, 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant took the leap into Dubai at the end of 2019, opening at Address Downtown.
Thanks to the work of Castaneda and his team, the Dubai outpost has become one of the top restaurants in the area. In fact, it was included in the inaugural Gault&Millau UAE guide, hailed as “One of the best spots in Downtown.”
Speaking of culinary guides, the original Abu Dhabi restaurant is now one of only three Michelin-starred restaurants in the capital. In Michelin’s review, it noted the venue’s “full finesse and precision.”
Looking ahead, there are plans for 99 Sushi outlets in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and even London.
Castaneda and his fellow Spanish founders of 99 Sushi Bar have shown a deep understanding of Japanese
With the support of his team and shareholders, Karim Hajjali leads Food Quest, ServQuest and Advance Investments within various sectors in F&B space. Hajjali has led the turnaround of his company with record-breaking growth and achievements especially following the establishment of ServQuest, the UAE license operator for ALBAIK. ALBAIK’s has seen huge success since opening in Dubai Mall, with many more outlets opening around the UAE. The brand’s largest outlet is opening in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2022, with more brands coming in 2023.
Kim Thompson is responsible for direct trade sourcing of green beans and roasting cat RAW, as well as the human capital, environmental and social responsibility. In 2022, the company celebrated its 15-year anniversary by launching a new blend 15:51. There is also a new range of sustainable packaging using recycled plastic milk bottles, as well as a new company called RAW Beverage trading, importing non-coffee high-quality beverage products, such as single origin drinking chocolates from Ghana and ceremonial grade In 2023, RAW will enter the KSA market, building a new coffee roastery.
No hotel in the region is more focused on F&B than Atlantis. Since joining Atlantis in 2021, Kym Barter has led the F&B strategy, concept and product solution development and implementation across both Atlantis, The Palm and the upcoming Atlantis The Royal, comprising 53 restaurants and bars. He oversees a team of 1,250 at Atlantis, The Palm, which in 2022 has seen a revenue increase of 29 percent in comparison to 2021, serving 4.1 million people along the way. Hakkasan and Ossiano landed Michelin stars, while Ossiano was the highest-rated restaurant in the 2022 Gault&Millau UAE guide.
Manhal Naser is responsible for providing the overall leadership and strategic management for AWJ Investments, which operates brands such as Operation: Falafel, Awani and Catch 22. In the past 18 months, the group has expanded in the UAE, KSA, US, and the UK. In 2023, AWJ will continue expanding in the GCC and explore new opportunities in the US and across Europe.
Marwan Bukhary operates Gold Sushi Club, overseeing the operations, marketing and financial aspects of the restaurants. He determines product lines, forms partnerships and establishes the company’s vision and strategy. Since launching the restaurant in 2012, Bukhary has established five branches across KSA. In 2023, he hopes to expand into the UAE.
Mert Askin leads the restaurant business of Azadea Group, which owns and operates approximately 150 units across eight markets for brands including PAUL, Eataly and The Butcher Shop & Grill. Askin is a founding board member at UAE Restaurant Group and an advisory board member at GRIF. He was recently selected as a board member of the European Foodservice Summit. He gives back to the F&B community and works on enhancing the industry by attending seminars, webinars, conferences and working hard on being a positive influence. In 2023, Askin will be looking for ways to expand the business, as well as putting increased efforts into sourcing locally; both for sustainability, as well as given the impact of the global supply chain challenges.
Milos Zekovic’ primary focus at Tao Group Hospitality includes running regional operations and new regional project openings. F&B offerings, developing ideas based on market trends, and implementing them across the region are his specialities. He has implemented incredible cross-training for the region, which has been expanded to a global scale across Hakkasan, working closely with the brand marketing team on business strategies and developments to ensure their presence in the market is felt. In 2023, he will be focusing on the launches of Ling Ling in Atlantis The Royal and Hakkasan in Bujairi Terrace, Diriyah Gate.
A serial entrepreneur, Mohamed Al Falasi owns and operates Saddle along with Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen. He is a firm believer that if you introduce the right concept, give people a unique experience, and offer a menu like no other you will succeed against all odds. Al Falasi launched Saddle Café in 2017 after two years of research and recipe development. Within a year there were five branches across the UAE and in 2020, despite Covid, he opened two additional branches and recorded a growth in sales. The same year he launched Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen.
Many restaurants aim to become embedded into their communities. Typically, this can be through championing a local cuisine, becoming the go-to hangout for residents, or finding a way to give back. In the case of Mohammed Abdulla Al Sahlawi’s Flat12, which he co-founded, the concept has become a community itself.Flat12 has evolved to become home to the emirate’s car enthusiast community, housing weekly catch-ups to car sponsorship events.In the past 12 months, however, Flat12 has entered the F&B world, and to great success. The Flat12 Café has become a core part of Al Sahlawi’s business, where more than 900 Dubai residents now frequent on a weekly basis.Meanwhile, the Flat12 events side of the business has also stepped into F&B, with a grand picnic at Safa Park recently drawing in 7,000 visitors and 1,800 cars.Despite the café portion of the brand launching only in November 2021, it has contributed massively to the financial success of Flat12. It has also been an incubator for a number of F&B collaborations, including Pie Planet, Wild Arab West, Ugly Noodles, Plain Deserts and Bodbod Bakery.This entrepreneur’s F&B focus will only continue into the future, with additional Flat12 café branches planned for both Qatar and KSA.
With 30 years in the industry, there can be few people better placed to oversee Aura Group, the leading F&B operator in Qatar, than Naveed Dowlatshahi. The group CEO oversees the lifestyle arm of Power International Holding (PIH), covering hospitality, entertainment and leisure.With more than 50 F&B brands and 100 restaurants under the Aura umbrella, Dowlatshahi is responsible for high-end international names such as Zuma, LPM Restaurant & Bar, Billionaire, Tatel, Carbone, Em Sherif, Gymkhana, Nammos and Beef Bar, as well as more casual global brands like Black Tap, Rossopomodoro, La Serre and EL&N. There are also local favourites on the varied roster of restaurants – including The Orient Pearl, Debs W Remman, Remman Café, Karaki, Maia, Sazeli, Jwala, Damasca, LaCasa, Baladna, Usta, DIVAN and Build It Burger.Power International Holding consists of a diverse portfolio of businesses from five key sectors: General contracting, real estate development, agriculture and food industries, lifestyle as well as general services. Dowlatshahi’s mandate is to take the already successful Aura Group to new heights locally, regionally and internationally and introduce exciting initiatives that are sustainable and commercially viable.The clear objective is to be the most respected business within the industry, one that consistently raises the bar at all levels, a business that thinks outside the box, adapts to market conditions and identifies global industry trends that keep Aura Group focused on the main objective of offering unparalleled execution and consistency, without being complacent.In 2022, Aura Group will more than double its revenue compared to 2021, in addition to doubling its real estate presence in Qatar. It is the largest and most diversified hospitality and entertainment company in the country, if not the region, with more than seven entertainment facilities as well as almost 100 restaurants. Flagship clusters opened in 2022 including Al Maha Island, Lusail Boulevard and the extension of Hamad International Airport.Since joining the organisation two years ago, Dowlatshahi has restructured the business, focusing on increasing the top line, driving profitability, organisational structure and people, in addition to introducing new systems, processes and procedures to enhance compliance.There has been a strong focus on digital transformation, too and Aura Group now has a seamless and paperless end-to-end fully integrated ERP (SAP) and POS system (Micros Symphony) that includes finance, HR and supply chain, in addition to managing Customer Data.The past 12 months have also seen the introduction of a customer loyalty program via an Aura Group super application, which will include all restaurants and entertainment facilities. Customers can earn and burn in real-time, in addition to ordering home delivery and making online table reservations all in one app.There were also 21 new brands added to the portfolio in 2022 under the Hospitality Division, such as Zuma, Beef Bar, LPM, Billionaire, Carbone, Gymkhana and La Serre, and three new brands under the Entertainment Division, such as Lusail Winter Wonderland, Rush and WOW, where an online booking system was introduced for all seven facilities. These online bookings also enable Aura Group to cross-promote all the brands under Aura Entertainment and package deals and bundles across the Hospitality brands.The group CEO has worked with his team to develop a franchise model for Aura’s own brands that make them franchise-ready. It comes as the group has serious plans to export its own brands across the region and internationally, including the likes of Debs W Remman, Remman Cafe, Jwala, Maia Lounge, Maia, Usta, DIVAN, Sazeli and Karaki.In 2022, a trading division was also introduced, which enables the group to leverage its buying power across all brands to get better pricing and terms. Direct import of some commodities further enables Aura to maximise margins across the business. Taking into account the increase of manpower staff from 1,500 employees to over 4,000, and the development of flagship projects such as the 3 million sq ft Al Maha Island, which can house 3,200 customers at any one time, and the introduction of Winter Wonderland, which can accommodate more than 25,000 customers a day, Dowlatshahi has overseen an incredible year, culminating in the FIFA World Cup.Next year will see more global names open under the group, however, the primary focus will be international growth as well as opening additional restaurants in Doha. Aura Group already has one restaurant, Basta, which will open in the prestigious Mayfair area in London in Q2 of 2023. An additional focus for growth will be the United Kingdom, KSA, UAE and Europe, as well as North America.Aura Group’s ultimate objective is to go public within two years, in the same way, Power International Holding sister companies Baladna and Estithmar have, which have both listed on the local financial markets.
A food enthusiast who has spent her career identifying and finding F&B businesses all over the world, Neha Anand is the MD and founder of Three Layer Hospitality.After six years in the industry, she follows brands and chefs all over the world in order to stay up to date on new developments and offerings. Anand attributes her success to productivity, creativity, innovation and networking abilities. With Three Layer Hospitality, she is in charge of a number of national and international food businesses, including Jun’s, Circle of Crust and Gourmestan.The past 12 months have been a year of expansion for Anand and Three Layer Hospitality. She opened two Circle of Crust quick service restaurants in Pune, the third Dubai outlet of the pizza brand in Dubai Hills Mall, and its first outlet in Chandigarh in November.Perhaps the most high-profile opening has been Jun’s, which opened in late summer in partnership with chef Kelvin Cheung. The modern, fine-dining restaurant marks the beginning of a new chapter for Three Layer Hospitality.Anand recently announced investment into Weldliwale by chef Abhishek Joshi ahead of plans to expand the chef-driven concept, as well as into Gourmestan, from the first female partner in Three Layer Hospitality, chef Shivani Sharma. Before the end of 2022, Anand will also add frozen dessert brand Fuji Cream to her list of launches in India.There are more than 300 members of staff in Anand’s UAE team, with plans to expand the team to 500 in the Emirates and 3,000 globally. It comes as Three Layers Hospitality aims to increase its international footprint through diversified partnerships, acquisitions, and strategic alliances.With over 20 restaurants and four brands under its wings, Three Layer Hospitality already established itself as a leader in the F&B market. Anand, as owner and promoter, was instrumental in turning her pizza brand profitable, and her fine-dining restaurant is on its way to breaking even just under six months from opening.With plans to double the number of outlets over the next two years, Anand hopes to create value through her leadership not only for shareholders but also for all people and partners associated with the brands around the world. It looks like there’s a bright future for Anand’s business in the Middle East and around the world.
Natasha Sideris is the mastermind behind tashas cafè, Flamingo Room by tashas, Avli by tashas, Le Parc by tashas, Galaxy Bar and the soon-to-open Bungalo34. She is a restaurateur, passionate about creating restaurants based on three core tenets: Beautiful food, stunning environments and engaging service for every guest who walks through the door. Her role as founder and CEO begins with conceptualising each brand and then working with her team to bring the idea to life. Her core focus is people, both consumers and staff. Tashas Group has a growing team of almost 2,000 people, with a turnover rate of just 15 percent. In 2023, Sideris will open new outlets in UAE, KSA and the UK.
Nicolas Budzynski oversees the restaurant operations of LPM globally and reports directly to the LPM board concerning all departments including operations, marketing, HR, and finance. He is responsible for running the day-to-day operations, planning and supporting the brand development, as well as streamlining processes and standards to support shareholders and optimise profitability. He currently looks after outlets in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha, in addition to London, Miami, Hong Kong and Limassol. He is described as a leader with honesty, integrity and full dedication to the brand, employees and guests.
One Life has become an important part of the D3 community, serving over 2,000 people a week. In January 2022 One Life opened a second location in Dubai at The Hive, JVC – a co-living space which is the first of its kind in the UAE. Camcigli (pictured with chef Kelvin Kelly, right) said: “I love that it allows us to once again become embedded in a community, as we have been in d3. I believe our strength lies in our ability to be one with the community we serve, and if you look at what we have achieved in d3, not only have we built a loyal customer base who we know on a deep level, but I also believe we have allowed our community to shape who we are and what we offer. I look forward to the same in JVC, but I think after that, we will probably look overseas to see if we can replicate the results in a completely different market.”
Omar Saideh is ready to show the world what Orange Hospitality is made of. He founded the firm with the opening of Il Borro Tuscan Bistro Dubai in 2017. Two years later Alici joined it. Saideh has spent half a decade fine-tuning the company, turning it into a dominant culinary force by focusing on quality over quantity but, following the recent opening of MayaBay in Dubai and Il Borro in London, is now preparing to enter a period of accelerated growth. Orange Hospitality’s office is located in ICD Brookfield Place, Dubai, and now operates more than six restaurants with 500 employees over two corporate spaces in the UK and Middle East.The quality on show across Orange Hospitality was evident when Il Borro and Alici were both awarded one toque in the Gault&Millau UAE 2022 guide. Orange Hospitality’s wine director Eleanora Caso was also named Sommelier of the Year at the inaugural event.And while Orange Hospitality has a stellar team, much of the group’s success has been driven by the tireless efforts of its founder.He manages every aspect of the business, and he has been solely responsible for concept development, food and beverage strategies, menu development, design and construction, operational procedures, marketing, and staff training. All of this has culminated in the performance of this year’s record-breaking figures. He helped to grow the group from a start-up to more than a quarter of a billion sales.Orange Hospitality has truly mastered its craft, but this year and next, Saideh is readying to supercharge his company. In the coming weeks, Orange Hospitality will open the French homegrown concept Josette.Josette will bring live entrainment as part of a glamourous, luxury dining experience with show-stopping cocktails, its own champagne label and French dining in the heart of DIFC. Orange describes is as a place to indulge in excess, opulence and sophistication that will celebrate the roaring 1920s Paris.Saideh’s vision for Orange Hospitality is to introduce more never-before-seen concepts to the UAE market, as well as take its brands to the world’s major dining cities, such as Paris, New York, Riyadh, Monte Carlo and London.Beyond this growth, he is currently diversifying the core business by introducing additional business divisions. Saideh will lend his expertise to others in the industry, from multi-million-dollar dealmaking to recruiting candidates for restaurants; he will execute projects specialised in openings along with turnarounds for struggling or financially distressed operations.Saideh has spent years quietly proving he understood Dubai dining better than many others, now is his time to prove he can do it at scale, and show Dubai dining can work anywhere in the world.
In Dubai, it’s not uncommon for restaurateurs to try their hand at various different cuisines in a bid to beef up their restaurant empires. Piero Giglio, however, has chosen to focus on the food that he knows best, Italian. As MD and partner of Mine & Yours Group, Giglio oversees Chic Nonna and Salotto by Chic Nonna, L’Amo Bistro Del Mare and Dellzie Caffe Gourmet, which have all opened in the past 12 months and each add something different to the Italian scene and to each other.Giglio’s bold and inspired location selection for all his eateries has paid off in spades by creating new areas for popular business.Rather than being another face in the crowd, Chic Nonna, L’Amo Bistro Del Mare, and Delizie Caffe Gourmet have ended up being the reason people travel to the areas they are based, giving people unexpected and exciting new locales.Just a few months into operations, Chic Nonna has become award-winning, recognised in Time Out Dubai Nightlife Awards 2022 as having the best restaurant bar in the city.Giglio has also talked extensively about taking the brands abroad, the reverse of the tried-and-tested Dubai way, which sees concepts brought in from elsewhere. There are also talks with various five-star hotel chains to set up the Salotto by Chic Nonna brand in their properties.With a visionary approach to business and a deep understanding of Italian food and drink, Giglio and Mine & Yours are only getting started.
Winner of Restaurateur of the Year at the Caterer Middle East Awards just a few months ago, Rizwan Kassim’s contributions to Dubai dining are well known. The humble mastermind behind La Cantine du Faubourg, Twiggy By La Cantine, Mimi Kakushi, Lana Lusa, Gohan and, new beach club and Greek restaurant Kyma, Kassim is one of the handful of restaurateurs who builds all his restaurants from the ground up, ensuring he always adds something new in the process. In 2022, he also masterminded the expansion of La Cantine to Mykonos, Greece, Rikas Group’s first overseas opening.What started with the opening of La Cantine du Faubourg as a stand-alone restaurant in 2015 become one of the most successful hospitality groups in the region just seven years later, adding seven brands. There are six new brands coming in 2023, as well as a big operation in Saudi Arabia.Rikas’ development plan for 2023 has been put together by the owner himself. Things to come include another new beach club on Palm Jumeirah at the beginning of the year, two new concepts opening in the first quarter, two new outlets in Mall of the Emirates by the end of Q2, six outlets in KSA, as well as more plans across Europe and Turkey.Respected and well-liked by the entire F&B industry in the UAE, Rizwan Kassim’s story is as impressive as the multi-award-winning restaurants his teams run. Since the pandemic, Rikas Group’s expansion has been rapid, but has maintained quality throughout. More of the same is coming in 2023.
Rabih Fakhreddine is in a league of his own. Few others in Dubai and the region have been able to combine dining and entertainment like Fakhreddine has.With 7 Management, he has created one of the region’s leading entertainment and nightlife companies, which saw him named Nightlife Operator of the Year at the inaugural Caterer After Dark Awards. Simply put, the man knows what the people want, even more so after the pandemic.After this period, customers needed a one-stop-shop for dining, entertainment and nightlife, and Fakhreddine has been one of the few able to provide it. His founding Dubai venue Seven Sisters promptly cemented him as a leader in this niche, while follow-ups such as Antika Bar, The Theater, February 30 and BO18 have only contributed to Fakhreddine’s reputation as one of Dubai’s nightlife pioneers.His strategic approach, combined with a profound understanding of excellence allows him to create concepts and venues that build connections and memories with customers. In 2022 alone, he led the group to substantial growth adding five new concepts and restaurants such as Lucia’s, Black Flamingo, Limonata, Sayf and Café Beirut by the Sea.Impressively, he has proven this offering can work almost anywhere. Dubai’s top hotels are all calling upon 7 Management to add that nightlife edge to their properties. 7 Management venues can be found in the likes of Address Sky View, Fairmont Dubai, Fairmont The Palm and the brand new Radisson resort on Palm Jumeirah.At the end of 2021, Fakhreddine entered the Saudi market with Café Beirut at Riyadh Boulevard and an Antika pop-up at the Oasis area, part of the Riyadh season.Both were hits and 7 Management continues to expand rapidly in the region. In the immediate future, a combined six venues will open in Doha, Bahrain and Riyadh before the end of 2022 and start of next. While in the Emirates, another two new venues will open before the end of 2022.Outside the GCC, 7 Management is readying to take on Europe, both in terms of franchise agreements and licenses, showing that the Middle East is indeed a frontrunner in entertainment, aided by the progressive innovations of visionaries such as Fakhreddine.
There are few restaurateurs in the region that are as successful as Panchali Mahendra.
Recently elevated to the position of President of Atelier House Hospitality (AHH), Mahendra has had an incredible 2022. Over the past year, she has introduced new brands into the UAE, expanded existing brands into new territories and seen her outlets pick up multiple awards and accolades, including a Michelin star.
With almost two decades in the industry, Mahendra has been with AHH for more than five years, operating as managing director until her recent promotion.
Her role is all-encompassing, taking in concept curation, staffing of 400 employees, finance, operations, accounting, creativity, and turnkey. Brands under her remit include Marea, 11 Woodfire, Mohalla, RSVP, Tides Bar and The Host in the UAE, as well as Mohalla Riyadh and Morini Riyadh.
She has a strong consulting professional background, with a post-graduation degree in Guest Services Management from The Oberoi Center of Learning & Development, as well as being a gold medallist in hospitality from the University of Huddersfield, UK & IHM Aurangabad.
In 2022, her homegrown concept 11 Woodfire was awarded a Michelin star, making her the only Indian woman to run a restaurant with the coveted accolade.
Mahendra was also the first woman to receive a Golden Visa in hospitality from the UAE government. She is no stranger to Caterer Middle East, either, making this list in 2020 and 2021 and featuring in our Women in F&B Power Lists in 2020, 2021 and 2022. She has also received awards from other publications in the region and in India.
Over the course of her career, Mahendra has conceptualised, operated, and opened close to 67 restaurants internationally, with a huge success rate. She spread her business wings this year by entering the wellness sector, opening the high-end Balinese home spa concept Solace.
After a busy 2022, Mahendra doesn’t plan to slow down over the next 12 months. She will open her first restaurant in India, with INJA coming in February, and a third outlet in Riyadh in March, when Mohalla opens in Riyadh Front.
A fine-dining Indian concept, Mantra, is also planned for KSA in 2023, as well as a 100 percent sustainable concept and underground cooking concept in Dubai in Q3. Solace will also be expanded into new markets and have its services extended.
Saad Aldrees is behind Tokyo, Saudi Arabia’s first-ever Japanese restaurant, which opened in Riyadh in 1985. He has also launched the more casual Kimono. The CEO also has big plans to expand Foods Gate’s offering. He has taken the company from a single restaurant to one with five outposts and three cloud kitchens.
Sandy Hayek had an immeasurable impact at Time Out Market Dubai, which has become one of the city’s premier F&B hubs. She now lends her expertise across the globe, opening Time Out Markets worldwide as its co-CEO..
Spencer Ayers created the framework for Jumeirah Group’s global dining strategy, including the inception of a dedicated F&B Committee. His role puts him in charge of some of Dubai’s premier dining spots, such as Al Muntaha and Pierchic.
A respected name in the hospitality world, Stephanie Reichenbach’s Nara is now entering F&B. Launched just this past October, Nara In The City has already seen great success, leveraging Nara’s lessons in warm hospitality and applying to food, events and catering. With four different menu options, and an array of entertainment packages.
One of the city’s trailblazers not only when it comes to fast food but also growing outside of the emirate. Steve Flawith has fast become known as one of the great contributors to Dubai’s gastronomic growth, launching Pickl just a few years ago and rapidly turning it into one of the city’s most popular brands.
Stasha Toncev’s lauded Balkan brand continues to grow, both financially and in terms of location, and still, Toncev has maintained and protected the genuineness of her brand. 21grams is set to break every record in its books. Toncev is not stopping there. On contrary, she’s looking to introduce new revenue streams through various initiatives, from an already-established local21 supper club, to themed nights, to catering services. Her future plans involve soulfood consultancy services, opening up a new location within the Balkan region and further investment into her ever-growing team, with a special focus on building and supporting the community.
A legend of the industry and a master in his field, Tapan Vaidya is a trusted voice in the region’s F&B scene. Sitting on numerous boards and often seen tackling the industry’s greatest issues at panels and talks, Vaidya spends much of his waking hours not only improving his own business, but working to improve the whole sector.
In the first half of 2022, Tom Arnel and his company, EatX, expanded Common Grounds at Dubai Hills Mall and Encounter Cafe at Mall of the Emirates. He also introduced Harvest&Co., a farm-to-table concept at Dubai Garden Centre and Jumeirah Park. In July, he opened The Byron Bathers Club on Palm Jumeirah.
A pair of ambitious F&B entrepreneurs, Tony Habre and Wassim Zouein have established some of Dubai’s most dynamic restaurants, lounges and clubs. These include Iris and Bar du Port, both wildly popular. Both of them have been and continue to be instrumental to ADDMIND, successfully achieving its commercial and strategic objectives through their own proven ability to foster business success and growth, build innovative and profitable brands, create attractive investment opportunities and establish strong, professional and efficient teams. In such a fast-paced industry, it’s important to be able to deliver outstanding experiences, provide exceptional venues and great hospitality all while being ready to predict what’s coming next.
Vanessa Bayma runs and manages CBC Consultancy and Events, which currently works with 42 yacht brokers to provide bespoke F&B private event chef experiences on super yachts in the MENA region. She also spearheads all consultancy for private brand clients.
Based in Dubai, Yannis Stanisiere is responsible for the direction, growth and control of organisational operations of all nine COYA venues globally, including COYA Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha. In the past 12 months, he has overseen the openings of COYA Riyadh and COYA Doha, with outlets in Marbella and Oman coming in 2023.
Miss Lilys, Indochine and Honeycomb HiFi may not appear to have much in common, but in reality, they are all linked by an undeniable ‘cool factor’. Varun Khemaney and Khalil Dahmash built VKD Hospitality Group in 2016, a small-but-mighty restaurant group which has proven to understand exactly what the modern Dubai diner is after. Both Miss Lilys and Indochine are at the top of their game in their respective segments, and the new Honeycomb is shaping up to see similar levels of success.
After more than two decades in the industry, restaurant pioneer Walid Hajj took on a new challenge and co-founded the new group Lavoya in 2021. His start has been something to behold. In the past year alone, Walid has launched three hugely popular franchises: Joe & The Juice, Dave’s Hot Chicken and Barbar and has proved once more what a savvy operator he is, continuously seeking ways to innovate and cater to developing market demands.Lavoya’s most recent launch, Joe & The Juice, has already cemented itself in the Dubai dining scene, with the first two stores in the emirate rocketing to the top of the global locations, ahead of cities such as London, New York and Paris. Dave’s Hot Chicken, the LA-born street food sensation, backed by celebrities Drake and Samuel Jackson also broke a global sales record in the first week of operation in both Dubai and Qatar openings. Barbar was already an icon in Lebanon when it launched in Dubai and Riyadh, with a 45-year history to draw upon. Now, the Hessa Street flagship store and the outlet in Riyadh’s Tahlia Street, rank as the top two in the Barbar’s franchise, while the recently opened Doha branch is also making waves with World Cup visitors.Before establishing Lavoya, Hajj founded Cravia, one of the GCC’s leading food and hospitality groups that brought world-class franchises to the Middle East, including Zaatar W Zeit, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Cinnabon, as well as Five Guys in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to his astute vision and leadership, Five Guys in Saudi Arabia currently outperforms all the brand’s global counterparts in sales and revenue.Today, the company’s portfolio includes over 100 franchised restaurants across the GCC, employing more than 3,000 individuals.From brand negotiation to achieving operational excellence, Hajj strategically directed the growth story of Cravia, from inception to its circa US$200 million acquisition in 2016.His sense for market timing always proved spectacular, too, as he showed when Levantine street food was introduced with Zaatar W Zeit.The restaurateur possesses an innate sense of the ingredients for success. He is selective about the projects he takes on and adopts a full-throttle approach in everything he does, reflected through his brands’ consistent and exponential growth.He’s able to build a loyal customer base with incredible ease, stemming from his acute understanding of what works, with a competent skill set comprising wise location identification, savvy price strategising and creative team management.In 2023, Hajj plans to continue growing Lavoya Group. In three months, the group has grown from one store to 12 restaurants across three brands and three markets.Lavoya will end the year with 14 locations and will double that by the end of 2023. The company envisions to be a 100-stores operation before the end of 2024.
Ahmad Al Zaini is a serial entrepreneur, recognised by Forbes as one of the Entrepreneurs Shaping Saudi Arabia’s Future and as a high-impact entrepreneur by Endeavor Global. Co-Founded by Al Zaini and based in Saudi Arabia, restaurant and payment tech company Foodics has an innovative 360-degree SaaS ecosystem.
Under his leadership, 2022 was a milestone year for Foodics. In January 2022, the company made its very first acquisition, by acquiring POSRocket and becoming the dominant restaurant-tech provider in the MENA. In April 2022, Foodics raised US$170 million in the largest SaaS Series C round in MENA, securing capital from premium international tech investors to further power the journey to better support the F&B entrepreneurs and owners who make up the majority of Foodics’ client community.
Anis Harb executes Deliveroo’s strategic plans covering financial planning, overall growth and company performance, all aimed at making Deliveroo the definitive on-demand food-delivery company. He also spearheads the growth of Deliveroo’s Editions sites in the UAE, as well as launching the brand’s rapid grocery delivery service Hop this year. Other successful initiatives include the launch of Full Life in UAE and Kuwait, Deliveroo’s global ESG initiative to tackle food insecurity, as well as an initiative to reduce and divert waste from landfills by 2030 by striking a partnership with licensed recycler Shredex and Deliveroo joined the Dubai Can initiative.
Ashish and Sakshi Tulsian are the brains behind Restroworks (formerly POSist), a cloud-first tech platform for the restaurant industry. They are responsible for the company’s international operations, with responsibility for business in the GCC, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the US and the UK. In the Middle East, Restroworks is used by over 150 large restaurant brands such as Nandos, Cafe Bateel and Denny’s. In 2022, it became a ‘Great Place to Work’ company and Restroworks partnered with UAERG to conduct industry research on the big topics of the day.
In a relative short span since its launch in 2019, Fresh On Table has become synonymous with sustainability, food security and responsible sourcing. It has partnered with over 350 hotels and independent restaurant brands in their quest to support local farms and meet their ESG objectives.All of this has been thanks to the efforts of Atul Chopra and his team. Today, the company works with the likes of Hilton, Atlantis Dubai, Jumeirah Group, Accor, Rotana, Hyatt, Azadea Group, The Maine and many more.Notably this year, under the watch of Chopra, the company announced a deal with Hilton to support sourcing 350 tonnes of local produce. By October, this number had already touched 300 tonnes, leading to net savings of 8.8 million kgs of CO2 through this initiative.In addition to this, the company introduced a new dashboard to give its partners a real-time view of food miles saved and CO2 savings when using local produce. This has helped incentivise and motivate more and more people to be more sustainable in the food and beverage world.This new portal is set to serve the HORECA sector and give omnichannel access to enterprise buyers to request quotes, check availability, place orders, track CO2 savings and leverage a gamified point system with access to valuable accurate real-time analytics with no hidden fees. It has built-in capabilities for optimal cost-effective routing to optimise delivery time. In the future, the company is poised for global expansion. A very big announcement for KSA is on the horizon, followed by Spain.
Ben Mouflard has worked for the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and L’Oreal throughout his career and, at Chatfood he brings marketing know-how from the world’s biggest brands to local businesses such as SALT, Pinza, Mama Rita and Vietnamese Foodies. Under his leadership, ChatFood is now an omnichannel ordering and data-driven marketing platform, using tech like QR ordering and payment, group tabs, digital tipping and dynamic loyalty programs.
Matt Roberts was initially approached to head up UNOX’s sales department but quickly proved his skills as a managing director by branching out beyond sales and overseeing the accounts, order processing, corporate chefs, and marketing teams. A love of cooking and engineering makes him the perfect fit for UNOX and he has presided over new offices in Saudi Arabia and New Delhi and a fourfold increase in employees. He also unveiled UNOX’s latest innovation, SPEED-X, which launched at GulfHost 2022, Under Roberts’ supervision, UNOX MENA will finish 2022 with 180 percent growth.
Grubtech operates in 20 countries and in the Middle Easy can count Dunkin, Subway, Talabat and Azadea Group amongst its customers. Mohamed Al Fayed founded the firm and is responsible for steering its success and growth. Grubtech’s technology includes an advanced inventory solution, omnichannel point of sale and intricate operational modules that simplify operations creating efficiencies for operators.
A member of the UAE Restaurants Group advisory board, Naji Haddad is a well-known face in the country’s F&B industry. A regular at panel discussions and a respected voice for the industry, he is the general manager for Deliverect in the region. The tech start-up connects third-party delivery platforms and food businesses around the globe, bridging the gap between delivery providers and POS system and helping businesses manage their food delivery and takeout operations more efficiently.
Founded in Dubai, UAE, in January 2018, Kitopi has 4,000-plus employees and 200-plus locations across the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. It operates a portfolio of invested and franchised brands, helping them grow and scale in the delivery and dine-in space. Kitopi operates its global Customer Experience Center in Dubai, its Engineering Hub in Krakow, Poland, and its Robotics Hub in Odense, Denmark. Before co-founding Kitopi, Darkan worked at ARC International, where he was the digital transformation director. At Kitopi, he leads the entire tech vision.
Sirine Fadoul leads global marketing and strategic partnerships for Spades across the UAE, KSA and Singapore resulting in over 300 restaurants and hotels innovating their dine-in payment experiences.
Spades, which gives guests a chance to use a QR to split, tip and pay the bill, is in use in venues such The Maine, Lowe, EatX group, Jones the Grocer, Daikan, Couqley and more.
Spades says it can increase a restaurant’s table turnover by 15 percent, multiply staff tips by four, reduce hardware cost, increase order value and impress clientele.
Fadoul’s role as investor and executive leader is vital in driving innovation in the F&B space in line with the UAE’s digitisation and sustainability goals.
French chef Adriano Cattaneo only joined LPM Restaurant & Bar in 2022, but has already made an impact. Based in Dubai, he oversees the culinary side of things in the UAE, Riyadh, London, Miami, Hong Kong, Limassol and the latest venue in Doha. He plans to take the famous brand to new heights by adding seasonal dishes to the menus in each restaurant, respectfully evolving the menus that are loved by so many.
Acclaimed chef Akmal Anuar is the founder of boutique hospitality firm White Rice, now encompassing 11 Woodfire and Goldfish Sushi & Yakitori in Dubai, OTORO in Abu Dhabi and Chie in Sharjah. As co-owner of 11 Woodfire and Goldfish, Anuar is the face of the brands, leading culinary direction and strategy of the restaurants.Susu Chuen is the corporate chef at White Rice, working with Anuar to develop new concepts and help run the day-to-day operations at all White Rice’s restaurants.
With 20 years in the industry, chef Ben Tobbit was perhaps best known in Dubai for his work with Jumeirah Restaurants Group. Now, however, he runs Ben’s Farmhouse and is determined to try and make a difference to young people’s lives through food. As well as creating meals using local ingredients to be sold on the Kibsons site, he hopes to inspire people to enjoy healthier eating, support local producers and help build food security for the UAE. A mindful approach of sustainable packaging and practises is also part of the Ben’s Farmhouse ideology. At Georges Pompidou French School, along with his 22 chefs, he has re-branded the canteen and snack kiosk, introducing a menu with local vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Working across 7 Management’s venues such The Theater Dubai, Luci’s Qatar and Limonata Riyadh, chef Enrico Paiola brings a diverse range of flavours, ideas and energy to the group’s multiple venues through concept and menu development. With experience studying at IPSAR Luigi Carnacina in Verona, he soon moved to Venice before travelling to London and Miami before landing in Dubai. His colleagues describe him as a visionary, ready to take on any challenge.
Looking after more than 200 brands, Gaurav Gaur works with big names like Pizzaro, Zaroob, Taqado and Circle Café. He has experience in Rotana and Emirates Flight Catering, which prepares 225,000 meals a day. At Kitopi, his culinary brigade produces food for hundreds of restaurants, using technology, tech and data to support growth.
Grégoire Berger has taken Ossiano to new levels in 2022. Chef of the Year at the inaugural Gault&Millau UAE Gala and in charge of one of only three restaurants to receive three toques, Ossiano was also named Restaurant of the Year. It also received one Michelin star. His unique approach is leading the way in the city’s gastronomic scene.
In 2022, Izu Ani has collaborated with Accor and Evgeny Kuzin to develop food technology platform Kitch-In and, simultaneously, Ani’s own burger brand Izu Burger. Now plans are afoot to launch a bricks-and-mortar space for Izu Burger in Dubai and he is preparing for Gaia London.
Since the pandemic, Gilles Bosquet has helped expand Rikas Group’s operations in the UAE and into Europe. He is skilled at producing menus that focus on high profitability, maintaining food costs while keeping standards high. Bosquet leads eight kitchen brigades with eight head chefs and 150 staff .
A chef of some 35 years’ experience, Francesco Guarracino is responsible for defining and executing Skelmore’s culinary programmes, strategising for the group and integrating his food philosophy, leading to the expansion of the business and its portfolio. He oversees Roberto’s Group (in Dubai and Montenegro), Bolla DIFC and Roberto’s franchises (in Amman, Jordan and Doha, Qatar). He also is responsible for brands under Skelmore’s sub-company Brightstar Hospitality, including Mercato Centrale, Rumba Cuban Bar & Kitchen, Prato and more. Guarracino trains the kitchen teams for all of Roberto’s openings and handpicks the kitchen team from executive chefs to entry-level chef, as well as staying at the forefront of trends himself.
Jill Okkers oversees all Tashas Group brands across the UAE and South Africa, including tashas café, Avli by tashas and Flamingo Room by tashas. She leads and facilitates the food development process and manages all head chefs across the group, setting the standards for food quality and culinary processes along with developing and optimising food products. A sustainability advocate, her goal l for the group is to create food that makes the guest come back for more. Okkers is also known for empowering her staff, so they can grow and progress.
In a short space of time, chef Kelvin Cheung has made Jun’s one of Dubai’s hottest restaurants. Joining Three Layer Hospitality as a partner to open the venue, he will oversee expansion of the brand. At Jun’s he looks after day-to-day operations, creating new menu items, recipes and developing dishes. Using his Chinese background, North American upbringing and French training to the kitchen, Cheung’s menu is creative and innovative. The restaurant is performing better and better each month and has already extended its service hours to cater to demand, just five months after opening.
Chef Kyung Soo Moon leads the culinary team at SUSHISAMBA in Dubai, one of the busiest venues in the UAE, greeting hundreds of divers every day, as well as running the kitchen operations. He also supports other Sunset Hospitality venues as consultant. Despite being so busy, he organises and hosts monthly sushi-making masterclasses and is focusing on expansion in the region.
Mohamad, Wassim and Omar Orfali are the brothers behind the successful Jumeirah bistro, Orfali Bros. The casual restaurant fuses flavours and ingredients to create a cuisine all of its own and is often booked to capacity. While Mohamad Orfali is perhaps the most well-known of the brothers, thanks to his appearances on TV and industry events, his siblings’ pastry work is also key to the restaurant’s success.
In the industry for 36 years, chef Nick Bates is now development chef for Welbilt. In his role, he’s responsible for menu development, customer experience days, food innovation and onsite training, meaning he’s fully immersed in the day-to-day hospitality scene in the region. He is a familiar face to many chefs, operators and food development chefs, and has insight and knowledge of the industry that is hard to beat. Bates has helped to launch many new innovations in the market in the last 12 months and will continue to work with clients to make sure investment in Welbilt equipment is an investment in their venues and customers. In 2023, he will continue to travel across the region introducing the latest kitchen innovations.
Reif Othman is a chef, businessman and restaurateur. Originally from Singapore, he has had a brilliant year, with many accolades coming his way, including being entered in the Caterer Middle East Hall of Fame. His acute business acumen, thanks to his early experience as a stockbroker, allows him to lead the commercial operations and front-of-house of his homegrown restaurant concepts, which include Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, Hoe Lee Kow and Kushi, as well as sneaker store Soleside by Reif. He also opened his first international outlet in Cairo. More openings are coming in Dubai, as well as more international plans.
Simon Martin has a unique perspective when it comes to bringing Kerry’s customers’ dreams to reality. Working with QSR brands such as McDonald’s, KFC, Hardee’s, Burger King, Five Guys, Pickl and Al Baik, Martin and Kerry’s sales team have successfully launched over 50 LTOs in one calendar year spread across multiple QSR chains in the region. While the overall QSR industry grew at about nine percent in the Middle East, Kerry Food Service grew at 34 percent in 2022. Martin played a pivotal role in orchestrating the demands of the market versus the capabilities of the manufacturer.
Chef Solemann Haddad is the head chef of eight-seater omakase venue Moonrise, located on the rooftop of Eden House in Dubai’s Satwa. In a short space of time, he has won many accolades, including winning Gault&Millau UAE’s first Future Great award. Creating what he calls ‘Dubai cuisine’, he was born and raised in Dubai of Syrian-French descent. He draws on all of that inspiration and heritage for his restaurant. Aspiring to change the stereotypical professional kitchen culture, he aims to create a positive kitchen environment and to put Dubai on the global culinary map.
Source: Caterer Middle East
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