As with most business ideas, Kitchen Nation was started after founder and CEO Rami Salous faced a challenge: after purchasing his first food truck from the US and bringing it to Dubai, Salous grappled with the inevitable hurdles of setting up a F&B business in the UAE- getting permits, finding a central kitchen, searching for spaces, and so forth.
Salous, whose background includes leading a construction and interiors company and being a partner at various F&B outlets, has seen firsthand the struggles faced by new businesses in this realm, and he realized that other up-and-coming concepts face similar issues, and are often hindered by a lack of resources too.
It was then that Salous saw how the concept of F&B incubators was becoming prevalent in other parts of the world, and after realizing its potential and benefit for the MENA ecosystem, he set up Kitchen Nation.
Launched in April 2016, Kitchen Nation was launched as a platform to cultivate ideas and talent through its services and support system, with the aim being to stand out among the world’s culinary incubators in its mission to enable homegrown concepts.
Located in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers neighborhood of Dubai, the incubator provides a shared space for entrepreneurs to access a functioning commercial kitchen without having to set up their own. Without overhead costs, startups operating here can thus grow and develop a new business with minimal risk.
Open to any prospective F&B entrepreneur -who can apply after they attain government requirements to work in a kitchen, an approval from Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) and a food hygiene certificate- startups can come in at various stages of business development. It starts off with an application and assessment to determine how Kitchen Nation can support the startup, whether they need assistance with a space for operations, developing the product, or even the menu.
Its website elaborates that after application and evaluation, the next stage begins with orientation with the workspace, and supporting startups with developing and finalizing product development, accounting, operations and marketing. After which, participants will move on to the incubation stage, wherein members will have access to a HACCP-compliant kitchen and dining venues, consisting of multiple ranges, ovens and grills and 10 prep stations.
In this part, members are given the opportunity to attend events, workshops and training to scale their business. After which, when startups complete performance objectives within the incubation phase, startups can move out of the Kitchen Nation space (or continue to rent the space and other resources), while still being part of the alumni community.
The kitchen, as Salous calls it, is funded independently, and has four revenue streams: from dine in and delivery sales, member consultation and development, food production, and hosting pop-up events for startups to showcase their products. Drawing attention to why startups should consider joining an incubator such as Kitchen Nation, Salous says doing so would “provide them [with] the opportunity to test the market and receive tangible experience, as well as real life data to make informed business decisions. Knowledge is power! An incubator offers you that without the long-term commitment and heavy financial investment.”
Besides consultation in marketing and sales strategy, members would be offered legal, technical and operational support, employee resources, as well as a restaurant, catering service and grocery shop with products made exclusively by the incubator’s members. Startups can choose from a variety of memberships packages including both a part-time and a full-time package, and a pop-up restaurant option available for members and even non-members to rent the kitchen and dining area to host an event.
Though Salous admits that they are “just starting to make its mark,” Kitchen Nation currently boasts 15 operational startups as its members. Some of which are Fitness Feedz, Powwer Jars, Smith’s Catering, Encas, Lealah’s Lunches, and even Salous’ own F&B concept Rumman House -where people could “get real home-cooked food at their convenience”- which the founder launched after establishing Kitchen Nation.
Their biggest challenge so far had been getting the word out, which was remedied with teaming up with a PR and marketing team, and Salous’ own construction company also collaborated on development, so there were no further setbacks. Optimistic about the impact of the incubator, he says, “We hope to bring about a significant change to how concepts can be brought to market and new talent can be nurtured, and still maintain a high level of independence.”
As for what’s ahead, Salous says they plan to expand their network and bring in more concepts to the market, as well as a “few partnerships in the works”- with the eventual goal of expanding throughout the UAE and Middle East for aspiring restaurateurs. As for the ecosystem itself, Salous asserts the significance of platforms such as Kitchen Nation wherein entrepreneurs can get experience in prototyping their product and operations. He also suggests that small businesses should consider cross promotions to build a customer base, which would also help their peers.
As a culinary incubator, he stresses on how the community is a great asset, saying, “One of my favorite things to see in the incubator is the internal networking between clients. It’s the community that Kitchen Nation has brought together that will best advertise and sell the concept to others.”
Rami Salous, founder and CEO, Kitchen Nation
What are your top three tips for an entrepreneur to start an F&B business in MENA?
“1. Focus on developing a great product/menu, the other details are secondary.
2. Budget for the unexpected. Bad things have a way of happening when you’re under prepared.
3. Know your business in and out. The more you understand, the better your choices and decisions will be.”
What is the biggest challenge for F&B entrepreneurs in Dubai (and the region)?
“I believe Dubai especially goes out of its way to provide world-class F&B operations. It attracts brands from all over the world. As great as that is, with all the big guys competing, small businesses sometimes get left out. Kitchen Nation is a platform they can utilize and get their chance to shine.”