Quality Control: Restaurateur Hani Nakkach On Bringing His London-Based French Bistro, Aubaine, To Dubai
"We don’t franchise- never have, and never will.” That’s the response I get when I ask Beirut-born restaurateur Hani Nakkach about the strategy he used when going about the January launch of the first international location of his London-based French bistro, Aubaine, in Dubai. “We decided to open in Dubai when we found the right partner who shares the same DNA and vision as us,” he explains. “We run every site ourselves, as we want to be sure the quality and brand ethos is always upheld. We managed to build a great team in Dubai, mixed with some veterans from Aubaine London to take care of Aubaine Dubai.” And Nakkach himself is on the ground for his enterprise in Dubai- it’s easy to see that he’s a hands-on entrepreneur who is a stickler for detail. “I split my time now between London and Dubai, but have put my focus more on Dubai, especially during the opening months,” he says. “We have The Dubai Mall location up and running now, with the second location set to open its doors in spring 2016 in City Walk 2.”
While Dubai may be a new location for Aubaine, it must be noted here that Nakkach’s concept that has worked quite well in London- launched in 2005, the enterprise today has ten of its restaurants spread across the city’s various neighborhoods. “Our USP is fresh, honest, French food,” he says. “Everything you eat in Aubaine is made by hand, daily- the bread, the patisseries, the juices, all the dishes offered on the menu.” Adding to the restaurant’s appeal is its exposition of the rather French emotion of joie de vivre: “Aubaine has always had a neighborhood feeling to it, never that of a chain or franchise, and it is that inviting ambience, coupled with the high quality of our food and ingredients, that we have been able to reproduce throughout our other locations,” Nakkach explains. “Aubaine is as relevant for a dinner with colleagues or friends, as for a quick coffee and breakfast, or to pop in and choose some bread and patisserie to take away.”
As for Aubaine Dubai, Nakkach is keen for it to reflect the characteristics of its London counterpart- this, he explains, is the overarching theme governing the restaurant’s growth strategy. “With the Aubaine expansion, I have always been careful to ensure we can maintain our high quality offering, as our clients visit several sites, not just one,” he explains. “The future is to build a highly respected global restaurant group with the aim being to always maintain our high standards of production, service, and ambience. There is a bright future for Aubaine, and I can see us expanding more, especially within the Middle East in the near future.”
But why start with Dubai? “Many leading brands in the world have set up in Dubai. Dubai is becoming the culinary center of the region. Plus there is a special connection between Dubai and London lots of our loyal customers live or visit Dubai regularly… Starting up in Dubai was also very exciting for me, as we got to see Aubaine in a different setting, since it is our first international location. I felt very happy with the opening, as it was great to see so many familiar faces and see the amount of costumers we had in our first week. This showed us that the Aubaine brand is a global brand that is known and loved from London.”
But while Aubaine may have the makings of a global brand, Nakkach is in no hurry to expand either- he claims his immediate focus is on the Dubai location. “I would certainly consider opening more sites globally, and of course across the GCC, if we feel the right opportunity arises. However, my immediate concern is to ensure we continue the initial success of Dubai. We were delighted to have done 800 covers a day in our first week, and I never want to compromise our quality, and the Aubaine experience and ambience for our customers.”
Tips For 'Treps: Hani Nakkach On Making It In The Restaurant Biz
“Firstly, have passion. The restaurant business is one of the toughest businesses out there, and it needs hard work and dedication. Second, understand your market. Third, ensure you have consumer touch points within your concept that will resonate with them. Fourth, take your time to perfect the concept prior to finding a site. Fifth, choose your location carefully since the best concept in the wrong place often fails. Sixth, employ experienced people and look after them. Finally, don’t cut corners. Or else, in the long run, you will lose.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.