A legacy in the making with Hussni Ajlani, owner and founder of Salmontini
How did it all start?
When I visited Beirut in 1999, I fell immediately in love with the city and ended up staying. At that time, Beirut was in full recovery mode, and I wanted to contribute to the food industry in my own way.
When I launched my first food project, which involved catering to the retail sector, something was amiss. I longed for the human connection with the end user. I needed to interact with the guests to really enjoy what hospitality is all about.
The idea of Salmontini grew after I discovered the amazing taste of salmon shipped fresh from the Shetland Islands and smoked in a very traditional and artisanal way in the Lebanese mountains. Although I didn’t expect that this idea would grow to become as successful as it has, Salmontini embodies the passion and love I have for the hospitality industry. Right away, I felt the need to create a solid brand with a strong identity that would reflect the level of care and attention put into it.
What sets Salmontini apart from other restaurants in the area?
For me, Salmontini is not just a restaurant; it’s a story, a journey of culinary passion and is loyal to its values. The products and recipes are just chapters of a never-ending narrative.
Beyond the quality of the dishes and the unique, personalized service we provide, what sets Salmontini apart from other restaurants is our team’s solid belief in the institution of which they are part. I strongly believe that creating a brand with a strong identity starts with the people behind it, the spirit and sweat they give through their loyalty and dedication. After all, enthusiasm is contagious. In short, Salmontini has always gone above and beyond guests’ expectations.
How does Salmontini maintain consistency in the quality of its food and service and what are the greatest operational challenges you are facing?
It’s hard maintaining consistency in this industry. To retain key team members for over 15 years, they really need to be fervent believers in the brand’s values, and this is what we have been able to achieve since our first opening in Beirut in 2001.
When people ask me how we have been able to maintain this consistency in our quality, my answer is simple. Most of the opening team members are still working with us to this day. Chef Rodrigue Khawand, for example, has been behind our success since 2001, and I don’t know many other restaurants that can say the same. The same applies to our front-of-house star in Dubai Alex, who has been with us for the past 15 years. These are things that you can still find in famous institutions across Europe, but they are not easy to achieve. The challenge is to make sure staff feel part of the brand’s success and create the best working environment for every single team member, from the janitor to the MD. This is my daily target. If they are not happy to come to work then I have failed as a leader.
Hospitality service is made up of two words; service is a function, an action, whereas hospitality is a feeling, and this what I want to convey through my management and through every team member. Our guests must feel it too. My management style is making people feel good and to make it cool to care. When I walk into the restaurant, I want the team to hustle a little harder, not because they fear me, but rather they want me to be proud of them for mastering their craft. This reflects positively on the guests’ experience; they leave our restaurant contented and refreshed.
What are your plans for the future of Salmontini and do you have any new projects or expansion plans on the horizon?
The past 22 years of Salmontini’s journey have been filled with successes, challenges and emotions, especially on a personal level. I am now currently writing the storyboard for the next 20 years to come with new concepts, new locations and new territories — what I would call the “SALMONTINI 2.0”.
The new projects include new verticals, some of which are still on the drawing board; Salmontini Le Bistro in DIFC is one of them and others will be shared soon. They will all center on the same values of passion, tradition, craftsmanship and warmth.
Salmontini has always been about leaving a legacy. I hope my children will take over the brand and continue the journey with the same vision and passion. Being hospitable is part of their education.