Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum are definitely foodies, but more than that, they're foodie entrepreneurs. While we weren't able to get the most candid interview with them –like most U.S.-based figures of business they've clearly had media training- we were able to get some strategic info about their upcoming UAE launch of CATCH, and how they plan on addressing operations literally a world away from their base of success.
"Without a great food product you are unable to be successful in this business. After food comes service and then the environment- in that order. Doing all three of those elements well is the key to achieving the allusive balance necessary for a dynamic hospitality brand," says Remm, one half of the EMM Group, a hospitality-centric company with several original award- winning concepts in their portfolio. The EMM Group co-founders have teamed up with local partners to bring their concept to the Middle East. "Our partners at GHAM, [Global Hospitality Asset Management], are established players in Dubai, matching our experience in the U.S. with their position in the local market. Our relationship with them has made it possible for us to enter such a highly competitive hospitality environment," says Remm.
While they will slightly be adapting the concept for the UAE's market, "CATCH is a global seafood concept that plans on sticking to its roots. Originality is what sets us apart and what is going to be the key to our success," says Birnbaum. The duo are realistic about Dubai's market, and they admit they're going up against established F&B market players: "Being the new kids on the block in any market can be a blessing or a curse- how that plays out has a lot to do with how you approach the challenge. I would not feel comfortable entering Dubai as a group from New York without local partners who are integrated into the community. The team at GHAM have a great reputation and some really fantastic properties in their portfolio. As I mentioned earlier, we never would have entered the market without a local partner, and we found more than that in this group. Their passion for the worlds of restaurants and nightlife, and understanding of the dynamic between the two, is very similar to ours which makes for a great alliance and an ideal partnership," adds Remm confidently.
Established in 2006, EMM Group has several globally-recognized hospitality concepts; their portfolio includes Abe & Arthur's, SL New York, Ten-june, and The Chandelier Room at the W Hoboken, recently re-branded and "re-conceptualized" as LULU's. In preparation for their first project outside of the U.S., Remm and Birnbaum says that they personally frequented multiple existing high-end venues in the UAE market to get a handle on what exactly they were up against in terms of competition. "We like to absorb things firsthand and felt the best way to see how CATCH would fit into the Dubai scene was to go and spend some time there ourselves. We visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai about a year ago and tried to take in as much of the cities' hospitality culture as possible. We dined at three restaurants a night and talked a lot about how CATCH would work within the framework of the culinary landscape."
The two frequent their own venues for both enjoyment and business purposes, and both have a love of F&B business being as much about the overall social experience, in addition to high quality food and beverage offerings. "We admire the dining and nightlife scene in Dubai. Its international appeal is magnetic and we recognize that pull, as it has already attracted many of the most respected and popular establishments from around the world," says Birnbaum.
"Not only does Dubai play host to the world's jetsetters, moguls and socialites, the city has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. People are flocking here for its local originality and universal flavor. These people are our target market."
How much do celebrity affiliation and appearances affect the success of a hospitality outlet?
ER "Celebrities have enjoyed CATCH New York since we opened in 2011. Everyone from Brad Pitt to Rihanna has been to our venue. It's exciting for guests to see famous people and we respect that so we're happy to embrace them when they come but also do what we can to protect their experience."
MB "Tremendously. Every notable personality I can think of has been through the door at CATCH New York. From jay z and Beyonce? to David Beckham and Steven Tyler- it wouldn't be a Monday night at CATCH without at least a few bold- faced names."
How much importance do you give these social media marketing channels as F&B entrepreneurs?
ER "We definitely use social as a tool for communicating, but we try not to overthink it or make it too gimmicky. Like anything else, if you lose the authenticity that is tied to the identity of the brand, people stop listening."
MB "While we do acknowledge the importance of social media, we focus on keeping it authentic. We post food we love and our guests do the rest. With so much out there in social media, we aim to keep our message short, sweet and real."
What is your idea of a good time for an evening out?
ER "A good time is a great meal with a great group of friends. I like being able to try a lot of different dishes in a family-style environment in a lively room with good conversation and like-minded people."
MB "Being at a big table at CATCH NYC with many friends, laughing over dinner until the wee hours of the morning is my favorite thing to do!"