Wingsters Founder And Managing Director Ahmed Hassan On Being A First Time 'Trep In F&B
Ahmed Hassan, the founder of Wingsters in Dubai Marina, says that he was always interested in the F&B industry. “I’m a big foodie, and from a young age I always had a keen interest in cooking. I would spend time with my mother while she was cooking for the family. During university, I learned to cook dishes from other cuisines and enhanced my experience, tastes and palette by travelling and understanding more about ingredients.”
After graduating from Kingston University with a BA Honors degree in Business Management and Finance, Hassan joined HSBC Bank, later moving to Bloomberg LP to specialize in Middle East equities and sales. “I then moved to a boutique trading firm to spearhead their operations in the MENA region. During the financial crisis, I moved to Dubai to join Thomson Reuters as an Equity Transactions Manager. I then took on a challenging role as Regional Manager for a German algorithm analysis/trading solution provider and was mandated to set up the regional office and run the operations.” Hassan, an Iraqi who spent most of his life in the U.K., says that despite his finance career, he always had the urge to open his own restaurant.
Where did the idea for Wingsters originate from? “One of my favorite food items are chicken wings, so when I moved to Dubai five years ago, I was shocked when I found out there were very few places that had it on the menu,” explains Hassan. He says the few places that did offer finger food on their menus weren’t doing it very well, and they certainly didn’t specialize in popular fast food. “I naturally became a huge foodie in Dubai, exploring different cuisines in this vibrant city filled with a diversity of cultures and tastes. I would follow good food whether in a five-star fine dining restaurant or a small hole in the wall. I became known among friends and colleagues as the go-to person to suggest places to eat for different occasions. They also kept telling me that I should open my own restaurant. This made me more serious about looking into it and I started doing my research.”
As a child, Hassan says that he wanted to become a chef, but with traditional Arab parents, “the typical doctor, engineer, and lawyer options were presented to me. Luckily, I was able to avoid those professions and opted to go down the business and finance route, as I knew it would help me later in life to develop my passion.” With signature dishes named after cult characters of the underworld like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Don Corleone, and Lucky Luciano, you’re able to guess what theme the brand’s identity is built around. Clever marketing and an active social media presence has helped Wingsters gain traction. The restaurant is very active on Instagram, and while they do have Facebook and Twitter accounts, they use both of the latter mediums primarily as a relay channels for their Instagram posts. They are heavily engaged with their online followers, often reposting user-generated content.
On their website, Wingsters has an onsite challenge of sorts called “The Initiation.” Guests of Wingsters who enter as contestants must eat “eight suicidally spicy wings in four minutes and then endure a five-minute afterburn.” Once you’ve mastered the heat under the watchful eye of either Hassan or an on-shift manager, your picture is placed on the Wingsters “mobster wall of fame.” The menu, a selection of salads, starters, burgers, desserts, shakes, and of course wings, keeps to the overall theme. A select few items can be personalized –the burgers have a slew of add-on options- and the rating scale for sauce heat playfully asks, “How much of a Don are you?” Eat-in, take out, and delivery options are all available, and the tag line, “Say hello to my little wings” appears to have taken off since several social media posts by guests quote it of their own accord.
As an entrepreneur, Hassan admits that things are markedly different than being in the corporate ranks. “You have to become your own support structure, and then [be a support structure] for your own employees. You’re responsible for every small to large thing that happens. You work longer hours and give up your social life.” During the research and development phase of his concept, Hassan says that persistence was key. On the ground PR-ing of his idea helped Wingsters become more real to him, and drove him to push it to fruition.
Some tips for ‘treps looking at launching an F&B outlet? “Always make sure the research of different elements is done well prior to conducting them, write an effective business plan as you’ll refer back to it to make sure you’re on track, and take precautions to safeguard yourself when dealing with various contractors.” This first-time ‘trep didn’t seek the help of F&B consultants, and doesn’t find it a misstep: “I knew what my vision was and I followed that through. Although I did ask a lot of questions wherever I went to learn as much as I could.” In terms of guidance, he says that he has a number of mentors with “different specialties”, referring to it as an important part of his growth.
In hindsight, Hassan says that he wishes he followed his instincts “and started this restaurant a long time ago. As for everything else, it’s a learning curve, and I’m grateful I experienced it as the learning and experience I’ve gained is priceless.” Dubai was his first choice to execute his entrepreneurial idea; he has plans for a future venture in London.