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From Grill To Greatness: Eleven Green Co-Founders Sultan And Kinda Chatila On Driving A Winning Venture In The UAE F&B Industry "Our vision for Eleven Green was always to be the neighborhood burger joint."

By Devina Divecha

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Eleven Green
Sultan and Kinda Chatila, co-founders of Eleven Green.

Visitors to the Meyan Mall in Dubai were probably confused in June 2023 when the parking lot suddenly didn't have spaces anymore, and a line snaked out of a shopfront across the mall lobby. Closer inspection would have revealed that the long queue of people was spilling out of Eleven Green, a burger joint that has been able to quickly capture the hearts (and stomachs) of foodies in the UAE.

The menu is simple- but that's the beauty of it. Just three specials (including the award-winning Bull Burger), two "smalls" (i.e. the single patty burgers), and two sides. You can see why the Bull Burger has won an award when you bite into it. For starters, consider the hand-pressed Wagyu beef patty paired with cheddar cheese, as well as its signature Bull sauce. There's also the crunch of onions, and the smoothness of the house bacon jam. But what is truly exceptional is the Hokkaido milk bun- a soft and fluffy encasing for the moreish flavors packed within.

But how did we get to this burger in the first place? According to Eleven Green co-founder Sultan Chatila, the beginning of the brand could perhaps be called unconventional. "My wife Kinda and I have always been passionate about all things food and cooking, but Eleven Green isn't something that we ever imagined as a concept, initially," he says. "Kinda and I started a supper club called Tano's at 8 over four years ago, mainly focused on Mediterranean cuisine. Kinda was the genius behind the desserts, and I've always been focused on all our savory specials. Over a year ago, I randomly decided to enter a local Battle of the Burgers competition that was meant to find the best burger in UAE, and that's where the Eleven Green journey really began."

The Eleven Green venue at Jumeirah. Image courtesy Eleven Green

Indeed, Chatila -who previously was the Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa for Honeywell Building Technologies- went on to win this particular contest. He then went on to represent Dubai in the World Food Championships in Dallas, where he nabbed the third place with the Bull Burger that's now on his restaurant's menu. According to Chatila, the competition was a fun opportunity to explore his passion for food- but it was also a stepping stone to him co-founding Eleven Green with his wife. "Taking that chance has brought us to where we are now," Chatila says. "The evolution of our burgers and the skills needed to make them came with time. What truly motivated me was stepping away from corporate life and pursuing my love for cooking... The burger was the perfect starting point."

As Chatila thus made fact his foray into entrepreneurship, he was cognizant of the challenges and risks involved in launching Eleven Green, which ran the gamut from finding the right team, to funding the endeavor. "Eleven Green was purely driven as a passion project, with me deciding to leave the corporate world after 19 years of various roles, and to finally pursue my passion," he notes. "Luckily, my wife still had a stable job, which allowed me to take this risk. We funded Eleven Green ourselves, and it wasn't a small investment by any means." However, what worked in the brand's favor was its strategic partnership with Big Mouth Concepts, the brainchild of F&B entrepreneur Samar Hamadeh, known for his work on the likes of Stereo Arcade and Akiba Dori, with Chatila describing him as being their "eyes and ears in F&B, right from the start."

Eleven Green, however, wasn't the Chatilas' first venture into the world of food- the duo did have the success of the aforementioned Spanish-themed supper club, Tano's at 8, under their belt. Chatila is searingly honest about the fact that hosting a supper club doesn't automatically translate into being a successful restaurateur. "Honestly, I don't believe they can be compared," Chatila continues. "In my experience, a supper club is intimate. It's really about you focusing solely on your passion for cooking for small groups of people, where customer service isn't a major concern. People come with zero expectations, whereas a restaurant comes with much higher expectations, ranging from customer service to supply chain management, having the right team and culture fit, and representing your brand. So, ultimately, it's very different. I wouldn't say running a supper club translates in any way to owning your very own restaurant."

Related: Follow The Leader: Samer Hamadeh, Founder, Akiba Dori, Tokyopolitan, And Stereo Arcade

Image courtesy Eleven Green.

Through this transition from supper club to restaurant, while the support of Hamadeh has proven invaluable, what lies at the core of Eleven Green's success is its dedication to crafting the ultimate burger experience- from location, to ingredients, and onward to service as well. "Our vision for Eleven Green was always to be the neighborhood burger joint," Chatila says. "I never pictured it in a big mall or off a main highway; it was always something quaint and approachable. We wanted to be able to control operations and customer service, and offer a cozy vibe, which suits our menu. I think we've been able to do that quite well. Everyone I spoke with and discussed Eleven Green with was surprised by our decision to enter such a highly competitive F&B segment. Yet, I firmly believe that following your passion, and staying true to your beliefs -regardless of others' expectations- is the initial step in setting yourself apart. Rather than simply joining the crowd in the burger category, I focused on delivering what I believed was the ultimate burger– simple, classic, made with quality ingredients. That's how you stand out in any market, in my opinion."

The name Chatila and his wife have chosen for their venture also helps it stand out- however, it might not be immediately apparent as to why it's called Eleven Green. Chatila reveals here that 11 is his lucky number; plus, the shop he and his wife rented happened to number 11 in the mall's layout, and they also signed the contract for it on January 11, 2023. "So you could say the number 11 had to be part of it," says Chatila, and continues, "As for 'Green,' I just love the color, but it also symbolizes fresh starts and a new chapter in life."

One of the other reasons the venue has the word 'green' in its name is related to its attitude toward waste. "At Eleven Green, we're all about zero waste," Chatila explains. "We grind our meat fresh every day, no leftovers or waste, and that's a big part of our story too. This goes back to why we put green in our name too; everything is bought fresh, we don't have a freezer in the back, all our food is made for the day, and that's the reason we would often sell out. Fortunately, we have gotten better at forecasting the demand, and we are now able to keep on top of it. We team up with local producers and farms to get our fresh produce, and with bakeries for all our bread needs. It's our way of keeping things green and supporting local businesses."

Image courtesy Eleven Green.

Eleven Green's story is only just beginning, and Chatila confirms that he and his team have no intention to rest on their laurels. That said, while Chatila admits that he has had numerous opportunities and requests for international expansions and franchising, he's choosing to stay away from them, at least for the time being. "I believe the key for us is to expand cautiously, and never lose sight of our continuous objective: maintaining quality and sticking to our vision of zero waste, freshly made burgers with our limited menu," he says. "That being said, we recently opened our very first drive-thru location at the Al Khawaneej neighborhood in Dubai. Additionally, we are looking at a couple more projects for 2024 and beyond. There's definitely more to come, so watch this space."

Chatila is thus clearly confident about the future, and he is also optimistic about the further development of the F&B industry in the UAE. "F&B is definitely going through a growth spurt at the moment," he says. "There are ups and downs and cycles as always, but I think the appetite for people to go out and dine across F&B segments is there, which is encouraging. The landscape is quite competitive, but with that, there are still a lot of opportunities, and there is room for everyone, as long as you have the right product, and you can differentiate yourself."

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Chatila shares insights garnered from overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities. "I think there are many unknowns when it comes to entrepreneurship– passion is where this project started," he says. "But we know, like in everything, passion can only go so far. You will be struck with problems from every direction, whether it's operational issues, supplier issues, customer-related issues, or project execution issues. We just opened our second branch in Al Khawaneej, which is a drive-thru, a different business model that comes with its own set of challenges, so you must be able to adapt as well. I think what's important is to focus on three aspects of leadership. First, clarity- taking a step back, analyzing the issue, and gaining clarity of a situation. Second is having the confidence to make decisions around those challenges. You don't know until you try, so there's no harm in looking at the facts thoroughly, and making an informed decision. The third aspect is being prepared for the worst. Because what this journey has taught me over the last year or so is that you don't know what tomorrow brings, and you just have to be ready for anything."

Sultan Chatila, co-founder of Eleven Green. Image courtesy Eleven Green.

'TREP TALK Eleven Green co-founder Sultan Chatila shares his tips for entrepreneurs

1. Success doesn't happen overnight "You need to build your story, your brand, your concept over time– brick-by-brick."

2. Start with passion- and enjoy what you're doing "The business and the rewards come later; the key is to pursue your passion, and believe in yourself."

3. The people you have around you matter "Find the right partners, and build the best team; you can't do it on your own."

Related: The Business Of Funny: How Dubomedy Co-Founder Mina Liccione Redefined Comedy In The GCC

Devina Divecha

Writer, editor, emcee, and media consultant

Devina Divecha is an independent writer, editor, emcee and media consultant, specialising in the hospitality and F&B industry. With more than 10 years of experience under her belt, her work has appeared in a number of publications including Skift, SUPPER, HOTELSmag, Destinations of the World News, Spinneys Magazine, Entrepreneur Middle East, and more. She holds a BSc in Business from the London School of Economics and an MA in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield.

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