Made in Dubai
Celebrate the business leaders behind some of Dubai’s most scrumptious homegrown eateries – bringing together good food, great gatherings and unforgettable memories.
Nahla WaliFounder, Asma
Following a 17-year career in finance, Emirati Nahla Wali finally decided to bring her dream of opening a food-focused venture to fruition. Asma, named after her mum, was launched in 2018, with a Middle Eastern menu combining authentic flavours with trendy twists. Its huge success led to the swift opening of Italian-American TBK and upscale eatery The Boutique Kitchen too.
Samer S. HamadehFounder, Akiba Dori
Serial entrepreneur Samer S. Hamadeh opened anime-inspired haunt Akiba Dori in 2018 in the wake of other successful dining concepts in the city, from Stereo Arcade to Couqley. Samer is no stranger to exciting ventures, having previously worked to bring music, film and entertainment launches to fruition. With a current focus on all things culinary, he is all set to expand Akiba Dori in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and across the Arab world and Western Europe.
Hessa AlQassim and Hamdah AlShirawiOwners, Culinary Boutique
An Emirati concept with a passion for high-quality recipes from around the world, Culinary Boutique encompasses all-day dining, two cooking studios and an events space. While Hessa AlQassim wanted guests to experience a casual fine dining environment – where good food wasn't expensive – her daughter and partner Hamdah AlShirawi was keen to develop the vision and manage daily operations.
Joey GhazalFounder, The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill
Inspired by summers he spent on America's East Coast, Joey Ghazal founded The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill in 2015 – Dubai's first homegrown New England style seaside brasserie. The restauranteur's love for the hospitality business started at the age of 18. He worked his way up the ranks from busboy to head of concept development and marketing at one of Canada's most prolific restaurant development companies before starting his own culinary empire.
Bhupender NathFounder and owner, Trèsind
Hailing from a family whose fortunes were steeped in the hospitality business, it's no wonder that Nath now helms his own restaurant empire. The avid traveller wanted to elevate the fare of his homeland, and when you visit his eateries you'll see he succeeded with aplomb. The force behind Carnival by Trèsind, A Cappella, Trèsind and fine-dining Trèsind Studio, his restaurants have been credited with reimagining and pushing the boundaries of modern Indian cuisine.
Dr Abdulkareem Al OlamaOwner and founder, Rue Royale
Dr Olama was so impressed by chef Mathieu Viannay, who gained two Michelin stars for Lyon-based restaurant La Mere Brazier, that he partnered with him to open Rue Royale at Palm Jumeirah's The Pointe. The culinary partnership has proved to be a big success, with the doctor's medical background ensuring good ingredients and sound principles are at the core of the menu.
Nick AlvisFounder and chef, folly
Along with his friend and partner Scott Price, Nick Alvis has played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s dining scene. Following two prior successful restaurant ventures in the city, the duo launched folly in 2017 through a partnership with Gates Hospitality. They developed the concept from scratch, with Alvis taking over when Price left the country – spot their style not just in the menu here but in the decor, music and congenial vibe.
Salam DakkakFounder, Bait Maryam
Chef Salam always cooked the most delicious meals for her family, friends and strangers lucky enough to cross her path. She became a household name, gaining popularity while helming a Saudi cooking show, so decided it was time to give her well-loved recipes – many of which she learnt from her mother Maryam – a home of their own in Dubai. Therein began the story of Bait Maryam, a restaurant synonymous with homestyle Levant dishes.
Bill and Michele JohnsonFounders, Pitfire Pizza Dubai
Husband and wife team Bill and Michele Johnson turned their backs on their corporate careers to follow a passion for pizza. The American duo arrived in Dubai in 2007 and started craving an authentic taste of home – a slice of New York-style pie. They began experimenting at home in 2010, installing a professional oven in their garage to perfect dough techniques, before launching Pitfire Pizza Dubai four years later.
Deem AlBassam and Amal Al MarriFounders, Public
After opening her first restaurant Switch in 2008, Deem AlBassam developed a passion for creating dishes that were both delicious and visually appealing. She joined forces with her friend Amal Al Marri in 2013 and launched SALT, a pop-up burger van that catapulted them into the limelight. The duo have since opened other successful ventures like Parker's, Grind, Somewhere and Public – and they are not done yet!
Shaikha Eissa al LutfiFounder, She Burger
When her home-run business became a runaway success thanks to word-of-mouth reviews and royal patronage, Shaika Eissa decided to partner with local entrepreneurs Abdulla Nomaan Al Shamsi and Abdallah Al Hosini to establish a Jumeirah bricks and mortar spot in 2017 for She Burger. Secret recipes, signature dishes and an emphasis on remaining true to the original vision have ensured this Instagram favourite remains a foodie hotspot.
Hamad Al AwarCo-founder, High Joint
It may be a self-proclaimed 'hole-in-the-wall' burger spot, but High Joint has topped many a poll striving to find the best patty and bun combination in Dubai. What started off as a casual chat among three Emirati friends has morphed into a local institution, with Al Awar's travels bringing innovative combinations to the always evolving menu. Pop-ups, collaborations and social media savviness keep High Joint at the top of the culinary game.
Hattem MattarConcept Owner, The Mattar Farm
Hattem Mattar is the world’s first Arab pit-master and founder of Dubai’s only artisanal smokehouse, The Mattar Farm. The famous chef and his live fire menus have popped up all over the country and have even represented the UAE at The Smithsonian in the USA and at the world’s largest BBQ festival in Brazil. Quite rightly for a project that started on a farm, Mattar puts the spotlight on local produce and livestock and lauds third culture cuisine.
Lily Hoa NguyenOwner and Executive Chef, Vietnamese Foodies
At 13, Lily Hoa Nguyen was already an accomplished chef, catering to her large family's cravings and perfecting the sought-after recipes now served at Vietnamese Foodies. Her foray into the Dubai dining scene started when she noticed no one was producing plates from her homeland. Cooking classes at home soon led to a JLT outlet dispensing authentic classics. She's now got three locations, including one at the prestigious Time Out Market.
Abbas AnsariCo-owner, Al Ustad Kabab
A family-owned and run business that's become a Dubai institution, Al Ustad Kabab was founded by Mohammad Al Ansari over four decades ago. One of the city's highest-regarded Iranian eateries, it is now run by Mohammed's three sons, with the original location in Bur Dubai packed with foodie fans who adore the freshly-grilled meats, stews, fluffy rice and hot bread.
Stephen FlawithFounder, Pickl
He may only be 34 but Steve Flawith has already seen Pickl mushroom with seven outlets opening in quick succession since its launch in 2019. A self-confessed burger lover, the Brit wanted to lead the resurgence of simple cooking, executed well. Every item on the menu is developed and tested by Flawith personally. As a homegrown Dubai brand, the hospitality pro believes the community plays a pivotal part in shaping Pickl's unfolding narrative.
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Ali Al RaisFounder, Arabian Tea House
After travelling the world for 20 years, Emirati businessman Ali Al Rais was inspired to come back to his roots and set up Arabian Tea House in 1997. The restaurant is his way of showcasing his city and its heritage to visitors, giving them a 'taste of his home'. The authentic spot is a great place to sample local favourites, with a menu featuring traditional dishes Al Rais craved while abroad.
Kim Thompson and Matt ToogoodCo-founders and owners, RAW Coffee Company
Premium, freshly-sourced speciality coffee with ethical roots is at the core of this proud, home-grown business. The pioneering caffeine specialists, originally from New Zealand, started selling beans to commercial entities and individual fans in 2007. Barista training and a cafe in Al Quoz selling freshly brewed cups and treats is now part of this husband-and-wife duo's repertoire too.
Amna Al HashemiFounder, Mitts & Trays
There's a reason you instantly feel at home at Mitts & Trays. Founded by Emirati chef Amna Al Hashemi, a baking enthusiast, the brand conjures up memories of unforgettable meals, carefully conceived and always infused with a personal touch. The elegant yet friendly spot is a go-to for wholesome eats and naughty treats, with dishes like butter chicken sharing space with balaleet and braised short ribs.
Noora SaeedFounder and Managing Director, VIBE
Fresh out of university armed with a master's degree in business, Noora Saeed forged forward with her plan to open an affordable eatery that would feed both body and soul. VIBE's flagship location opened in 2018, and having attracted celebrity visitors like Drake, Huda Kattan and Ne-Yo, was a runaway success. DIFC now hosts a second outlet with Noora also launching a cosmetics brand, Lash Dubai.
Ibrahim H. Al MallouhiFounder, The Espresso Lab
As a child, Ibrahim H. Al Mallouhi would sit beside his grandmother while she roasted coffee and then help serve guests the freshly-prepared brew. Years later – now equipped with a discerning coffee palate – Ibrahim pursued an education in sourcing, producing and selling speciality coffee and travelled to work with coffee farmers. A vision for a cafe of his own took shape and in 2012, The Espresso Lab was born.
Ahmed Kazim and Justin JosephFounders, Project Chaiwala
Entrepreneurs Ahmed Kazim and Justin Joseph spotted a market gap when it came to the region's best-loved beverage, karak chai. They travelled to India to visit plantations and meet traditional vendors to understand the secret behind that perfect cup. The duo then returned to reintroduce tea drinking and urban street culture to the world via Project Chaiwala.
Mohammed Al Dahbashi, Shihab Al Awadhi and Chef Omar RodriguezFounders and Partner, SLAB
Melting pot – a phrase often used to describe Dubai, but equally apt when talking about the many influences Chef Omar blends together when perfecting dishes for SLAB. Backed by Emirati partners Dahbashi and Awadhi, the trio has also recently launched chicken-centric spot BRD by SLAB.
Hashem Montasser and Hany BassiounyOwner-operators and founders, The Lighthouse
What started off as a ground-breaking concept store and cafè in the Dubai Design District, has mushroomed into a culinary success story with four outposts of The Lighthouse welcoming visitors by the end of this year. Fans applaud the Mediterranean-inspired soul food classics and pastries that highlight fresh, high-quality ingredients and light-filled locations. Plus, their almond croissant is reputed to be the best in the city.
Omar ShihabConcept Creator, GM & Owner Representative, BOCA
Omar Shihab, the Dubai-born-and-bred Jordanian visionary behind BOCA, was keen to represent the UAE's rich biological habitats, farm produce and ocean bounty in the restaurant's concept. He wanted to erase the notion that we live in a 'barren' land while reiterating the country's abundance. Today, BOCA is included in the Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery guidebook and is featured in FineDiningLovers.com for its efforts in sourcing native desert plants into its dishes.
Reif OthmanFounder, REIF Japanese Kushiyaki
Reif Othman is a Dubai-based Singaporean chef whose clever twists on Far-Eastern dishes – with a nod to Italian and French cuisine fundamentals – have garnered many awards. In 2019, he launched his first homegrown restaurant, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, and a second outlet, Kushi by Reif, was opened in June 2020, making him one of the few restaurateurs to expand amid the pandemic. Reif believes life is too short for ugly clothes; check out his trainers and you'll see why!
Ahmed Saleh and Adnan Al AliFounders, 3FILS
Emirati duo Ahmed Saleh and Adnan Al Ali wanted to be at the forefront of innovative dining in the region – that's why they established 3FILS. Since its 2016 opening, the harbour-side Asian gem has been a favourite among gourmands, even nabbing the Best Asian at the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards in 2020. Following the founders' vision, 3FILS always elevates the gastronomy experience while maintaining a sense of ease and discovery.