Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness

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While 2020 was a particularly troublesome year for the nightlife sector, things seem to be picking up. We interviewed six industry veterans to hear how their businesses survived the
pandemic and their predictions for 2021.

AYMAN BAKY
CEO and founder of Baky Hospitality

What did 2020 teach you?
It made me stop in my tracks and think outside the box. I was able to explore new opportunities, restructure and plan.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
I was pretty optimistic at the start of the year; I still am but toward Q4. No one can predict what will happen to the economies of the world. We are working quarter by quarter.
What survival tip can you share with us?
Take a step back, pace yourself, look at consumer behavior and habits, and reorganize your business model to fit the current situation.
What restaurant trends can we expect to see?
I believe that high-end restaurants will become more limited, and we will witness growth in high-end casual dining options. People want a more relaxed, stress-free atmosphere..
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
We are opening Sachi Park Street in Q1, which will be our sixth restaurant in Egypt. In Q2, we will welcome Reif Kushiyaki, our seventh restaurant in Egypt, and we are launching a catering division in Q3.

MARC CHEHADE
CEO of MEC

What did 2020 teach you?
I learned that we need to fight to keep the brand alive. I think that 2020 was a tough year all over the world, not only in the MENA region.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
At Escobar, we started franchising the brand in the MENA. Our first franchise opened in January 2021 in Qatar. We are very excited about opening many other branches of Escobar in Dubai, KSA and Egypt.
What survival tip can you share with us?
Managing cash flow and cutting costs is critical.
What nightlife trends can we expect to see?
In my opinion, attitudes toward clubbing have changed immensely. Outdoor spaces that respect social distancing protocols will continue to attract partygoers.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Franchising in the MENA region is our main target, so we are working on opening more branches of Escobar.

RABIH FAKHREDDINE
CEO of 7 Management

What did 2020 teach you?
One thing I have learned from 2020 is the importance of agility, the ability to quickly assess a situation and act accordingly in favor of growth and continuity.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
Last year inspired business leaders and entrepreneurs to become more digitally conscious and build consumer-focused relationships. I believe the world will begin to set its own standards moving forward in 2021, to drive change instead of following the norm. Business continuity and survival will be ongoing challenges.
What survival tip can you share with us?
Adapt, plan and implement necessary changes. It is all a matter of perspective; a crisis can quickly turn into an opportunity with the right tools and partnerships.
What nightlife trends can we expect to see?
Covid-19 has indeed impacted all industries worldwide, and its ripple effects continue to be felt in 2021. We move with uncertainty, consciously adopting trends that match this unusual environment, such as focusing on outdoor spaces.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
We have an exciting pipeline of new concepts launching in 2021: The Theater Dubai at The Fairmont Hotel SZR; brands like B018 at the Media One hotel; Kahwet Beirut in Downtown Dubai; and February30 on the West Palm. In addition, we will be welcoming a beautiful new restaurant called Lucia’s, an Italian concept that lives in the traditional past but is also enjoyed by today’s modern diner. Last but not least, a French concept is also in the works, which we plan to launch later this year.

ANTONIO GONZALEZ
CEO of Sunset Hospitality Group

What did 2020 teach you?
Do not take anything for granted! Things can change at any time, and it is important to be ready for all scenarios. Always have contingency plans and cash reserves.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
Going out will always be an important element of our culture, and we are here to make that experience memorable. Quality, innovation and creativity will keep the F&B industry robust.
What survival tip can you share with us?
The key to long-term viability and success is providing memorable experiences. I am confident that the simple principles that made us successful are still relevant, and we will continue to offer our guests amazing experiences, great value, the very best quality and warm, professional service.
What nightlife trends can we expect to see?
Going out is more of a treat than ever before. As a result, consumers will see more tented, heated rooftop spaces with high-quality sound systems that create that perfect atmosphere.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
In 2021, we have over 20 openings planned in Dubai. The most imminent project is the Jumeirah Islands Clubhouse, which will be home to a new Isola Ristorante Italiano, Joe’s Backyard, RAISE Fitness & Wellness, Chloe’s Beauty Salon and Chaps & Co Barbershop.

TONY HABRE
CEO of Addmind Hospitality Group

What did 2020 teach you?
The importance of adaptability and persistence. What we persist in doing becomes easier for us — an obstacle’s power does not decrease, but our power to overcome it does.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
I foresee plenty of opportunities! Adversity breeds opportunity; crisis lays the foundations for innovation. Last year was a learning curve that pushed us out of our comfort zones and taught us many lessons. We will put into practice those lessons this year; it is a time for ingenuity and defining “new” experiences.
What survival tip can you share with us?
Be flexible. We have learned that change is the only constant, so you need to embrace it. Be ready and willing to reinvent — and keep reinventing — what you’re doing.
What nightlife trends can we expect to see?
Keeping guests and staff safe is, and will remain, the highest form of hospitality. People are reminiscing about the old days but won’t risk their health. I believe we will see establishments become increasingly more creative in order to provide guests with the experiences they long for without compromising on safety and comfort.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
We have many upcoming projects! We are focused on local and international growth. This year alone, we will open multiple venues in Saudi Arabia and Europe. We also have a few projects in the pipeline for Dubai, with two exciting restaurant concepts also launching this year.

EVGENY KUZIN
Chairman of Bulldozer Group

What did 2020 teach you?
The importance of agility, aligning our strategy and ideas with market needs, as well as maintaining the balance between a realistic overview and a positive outlook.
What are your business forecasts for 2021?
I believe the hospitality sector will go from strength to strength. We have seen how much people miss going out, getting together and socializing with family and friends. Technological advancement and digital delivery services are trends to watch.
What survival tip can you share with us?
Surround yourself with amazing people. When we work together, we can overcome any challenge and learn from each experience. Honest communication is key.
What nightlife trends can we expect to see?
When restrictions have been lifted, I believe we will see a surge in entertainment, nightlife and tourism. People want to feel connected, to unwind and enjoy themselves, and detach from the pressures of the pandemic. The nightlife industry enables us to play, to indulge in the music, energy and atmosphere.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
We are working on an innovative food technology concept, which is set to launch very soon, and continuing our expansion into Saudi Arabia by bringing a number of international brands to the kingdom. In Dubai, we are developing a beach club and theater as well as the launch of Cipriani Dolci in Dubai Mall.

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