Best friends Mira Lozi Al Naimi and Rama Mamlouk hit the nail on the head and became business partners when they decided to fill a gap in the UAE F&B market. In 2002, the two ambitious women brought their favorite New York City style bagels to the country by launching Circle Café, a restaurant that soon became a successful business. In less than a decade, the highly motivated ladies noticed that Dubai didn’t have cheap, good quality sushi options, hence they established Sushi Counter in 2010. In an exclusive interview with InBusiness.ae, Mira and Rama talk us through their exciting journey and their expansion plans.
Both restaurants that you founded resulted from a gap in the market. Did people appreciate your concepts immediately?
Yes, they were. Most products that fill a gap in a market are adapted and appreciated quite quickly, especially if it is a large gap in consumer products. Circle Café was the first to bring the true New York bagel to Dubai and offered a friendly, cosy atmosphere, and the market responded very well to it from the onset. Later as the market changed, Sushi Counter offered high quality sushi affordably and quickly. This filled a completely different market and was appreciated just as quickly.
Where is Circle standing today, 14 years after its inception?
Circle has evolved and grown tremendously. We now have 14 locations between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Khobar, KSA with another opening in Riyadh before the end of the year. We have also expanded into catering with offers for home catering and businesses. The brand itself is still the homey, friendly café we had 14 years ago, but we have evolved into a full café, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and items to fill the coffee and snack times in between.
What is the main factor behind Sushi Counter’s success?
Quality, consistency, speed, and innovation are at the heart of the brand, and it is our continual focus on these core beliefs that make Sushi Counter succeed. We are constantly trying to bring new items to the market that fit in with our views and our customer’s views on quality. Speed and consistency come from a lot of training and the wonderful employees we have at the shop.
What differentiates you in the very competitive F&B market in the UAE?
Innovation in our menu, quality in food and service, and consistency are what help to set us apart in market like Dubai’s. Innovation and quality are essential to getting people into the shops. It is consistency in product and service that keep our customers coming back to us over other options in the market.
Innovation in our menu, quality in food and service, and consistency are what help to set us apart in market like Dubai’s.
As working moms, how do you balance between your personal and professional life?
We make it a point to prioritize work when it is time to work and family when it is time to be home. It has been important to learn the art of ‘compartmentalizing’ work from family and use effective time management to balance both full-time jobs. We ensure to target our work while the kids are away at school or doing extracurricular activities and at other times we get back to our full time mom position.
What is your recipe for success in the F&B industry?
Our key has always been in filling those gaps in service and products offered at restaurants. Whether is it a new brand or just a new offering at our familiar shops, we always try and keep in touch with what is happening around the world and bring it back to our customers here in Dubai.
What are your plans for the next five years?
We are continuing to expand throughout the UAE and Saudi Arabia with our sights on some other areas throughout the Gulf region for both brands. We also have a few new ideas for brands and restaurants that we feel will do well in the UAE and Gulf markets, so it’s definitely going to be an exciting next couple of years for us.