When it comes to running an F&B company there are many ways you can approach it.In Dubai, the notion of ‘bigger is better’ is often talked about – whether that’s deciding to have a 300-seat restaurant or rapidly expanding your business to include dozens of outlets offering all kinds of cuisines.One person who is bucking that trend and daring to be different is Benoit Lamonerie. The CEO and founder of Delta Hospitality is doing things his way, at his own pace, and proving that you don’t need to shoot for the moon to be successful.In fact, Lamonerie’s vision is quite the opposite of the bombastic approach we often write about in these pages. When it comes to his business, he prefers to keep things within reach, focusing on intricate details and a tangible sense of quality and success.He’s also not usually one for the limelight, with a 20-plus-year career in the UAE behind him, running government-backed corporations, it’s likely many people in the F&B world won’t recognise him at all. Lamonerie, you see, is a man of action and decisiveness, not of bombast and public spectacle.It’s an approach that is clearly working. Within one year, his company has opened Caviar Kaspia in Dubai’s DIFC (making a success of the 95-year-old Parisian institution in one of the city’s most progressive dining hubs), reintroduced Beefbar to the emirate (now in the bustling turtle lagoon area at Jumeirah Al Naseem) and, this month, opens two new outlets right outside Caviar Kaspia. One is a riff on Beefbar, offering a more intimate, casual spot in the midst of Dubai’s flashiest restaurants, the other is an innovative restaurant of rotating chefs and concepts called La Table.
So how did Lamonerie end up moving from the corporate world to that of an independent restaurant operator?“I was ready to move back to Europe and spend more time with family,” he explains. “But along the way in Dubai I made a lot of friends and business acquaintances, and they convinced me to stay.“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but the idea of opening a restaurant keep coming back to me. Caviar Kaspia is one of my favourite restaurants in Paris, and I was talking to some friends about it when the opportunity to bring it to Dubai appeared.”
Lamonerie was determined to open in DIFC, however, there was no restaurant space available. Instead, he took over the spot that was formerly publishing company Brown Book. To make it work as a restaurant it needed to be expanded and transformed.He adds: “It was very challenging, but very exciting. Not only because we were creating a restaurant, but were creating new real estate in DIFC.“My only idea at that point was that I wanted to open a restaurant where I’d like to go myself. I wanted it to be small and intimate, like you were in a friend’s home. So that’s how we ended up with a very cosy space with carpets on the floor and lots of things around the place. It eats into the space but it gives the place a warm feeling. I like to say this is like a private members club without the membership.”The CEO is clearly a huge fan of Dubai and, having lived in the city for so long, is an expert in its restaurants, which he says are the best in the world.“The only thing that I felt was missing at the time,” he says. “Is this small salon, a small living room, a cosy place where you feel like you belong. I feel that all the best restaurants in the world succeed because they treat their guests as friends, which makes them want to go back.”Lamonerie was also happy to stick to his guns, not only with the size and feeling of the venue, but also when it came to the opening strategy. Influencers are never invited, though he says they are more than welcome to frequent the restaurants as paying guests. He adds: “We didn’t have any quick target of making it a big. We want to be there for a long time and it’s a marathon rather than a sprint. It took some convincing of other people to see that we didn’t need to invite people to come just so they could take a picture for Instagram.“Here, we wanted to grow organically. It takes time, it takes constant attention and it takes constant care.”
Lamonerie was already friends with Ricardo Giraudi, the founder of Beefbar, when he opened Caviar Kaspia. Once the DIFC venue was up and running, it wasn’t long before Giraudi’s brand was on its way to Dubai.“We clicked right away when we met,” Lamonerie says. “We talked about potentially working together at some point but had no firm plans. We became friends and once the space in Al Naseem became available, Ricardo was the obvious choice of who to call. It’s a real partnership and that restaurant has done very well since opening, and has found its own place in the market.”With that, Lamonerie’s dream of having one restaurant was snowballing into having a full F&B company.He adds: “You know, when you have one restaurant it can quite easily become two. Then the third one isn’t such a leap, and then the fourth, fifth will come. We tried really to do things properly and be a bit under the radar but then people were coming to me saying the wanted to invest and open a restaurant with me.“It’s important for me to invest in the restaurants that I can manage myself but I cannot invest in everything. So we had the idea to set up an investment fund so all of these partners can find vehicles that excite them and we can develop them.”The investment fund Momentum was born, which will now work bringing global concepts to Dubai, creating new concepts here and invest in mature concepts that are already in the city.
In a city with as many good restaurants as Dubai, Lamonerie says the most important thing is providing an experience people will remember.“Dubai can be an expensive city, that’s no secret,” he explains. “But that means you have to offer good value. Lots of restaurants do that very well. Even for a high-end place, they deliver value for money, but there are somewhere there’s a real gap between what you pay and what you experience.“Consistency in experience is what we’re striving for, in terms of food, atmosphere and how we make our guests feel. I believe that you will return to somewhere that offers you fantastic service, even if you haven’t 100 percent enjoyed the food.“But if you have good food and a poor experience, why would you go back? You’re spoilt for choice here.”That quality and consistency can only be achieved with help of a great team. In senior positions he has the likes of Tiffany Pilard and Emmanuel Sabater, experienced F&B professionals with many years behind them in the city’s restaurant scene.He explains: “It is a challenge to find the right staff because the competition is fierce but I believe that what we give to our staff is a bit of a different experience. We’re not a huge restaurant group, we have a few venues that are all their own entities with their own identities. It is very important to me that every restaurant remains at a very human size, with a manager who’s on the floor, and who can call all the shots, not just being a number.“We’ve had the same people in positions since we opened the restaurants, and repeat customers know them and know they will get a consistent experience.“I feel it’s something that is changing with Dubai restaurants. It can be a little faceless, with big corporations running them. In Europe you can go to a restaurant that has been in the same family for generations, and guests go with their kids, who will take their own children when they grow up…“In Dubai it isn’t really like this. But it is why I want to remain human-sized.”
The immediate future for Lamonerie and Delta Hospitality focuses on the two-for-one venues of Le Petit Beefbar and La Table, which sit in their own specially made unit outside Caviar Kaspia. When it comes to the latest iteration of Beefbar, the CEO says it was a no-brainer to expand and tweak the offering and move it to this, buzzing, part of town.La Table, however, is something entirely new. The concept is a small restaurant that changes its offering and head chef once a quarter.First up at the beginning of this year is a tenure by pitmaster Hattem Mattar, who will give way to Sara Aqel before she, too, moves on and the cycle continues for the rest of the year.The ability to offer upcoming, local chefs the chance to operate in the middle of DIFC, as well as trying new things every few months, was too much for Lamonerie to resist.He explains: “The vision is that someone takes over the space and makes it their own for a period of time. I also think it’s pretty good for guests because it always gives something new to try. Some might work better than others, some might end up blossoming into something else more permanent.“It means we can have a brisket restaurant, then a sushi restaurant, then pasta… What’s not to like?“It also gives us the opportunity to work with all these characters as well. It’s cool. They’re creative, they’re passionate, they enthusiastic about their jobs.“They are what we’re all about. Not big corporations, but a face that people can identify with.”There are more plans in the works, too, as Delta Hospitality picks up pace. Caviar Kaspia will expand into Saudi Arabia, with eyes on Doha and Bahrain, as well. Lamonerie says there is also a beach club in the works for Dubai.“It will all remain about approachability, though,” he adds. “I’m not going to be the biggest restaurateur in the world with the biggest venues. There are big brands doing that. We could have 20 restaurants by now but the stars have to align. People. Location. Project. Concept. It all has to make sense.”There’s a refreshing honesty and plain-speaking nature about Benoit Lamonerie. He isn’t afraid to walk down a different path, if it’s the one he believes is the right one to take. With such a successful first year under his belt, who could argue?
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