“Dubai is the Wild West,” says Tony Habre, smiling. “In Dubai you either make it or you fail; there is no gray zone. You have to be perfect at everything.” The CEO of Addmind hospitality group is currently making it, operating some of the city’s most well-known restaurants and entertainment venues. But he has teetered on the edge of failure before, and he doesn’t want to go back there.
The business outlook for May 2020 was grim during COVID-19 lockdowns. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce survey, nearly half of hotels and restaurants expected to close within a few months. A survey conducted by JLL (an industry consultant), found that dine-in sales fell by 52% between March 2019 and March 2020. Habre had just opened three new venues: Paradise beach club and restaurants Iris and La -Mezcaleria. Paradise was closed for good, however the restaurants were reopened following the lockdown. It required a great deal of imagination to keep these venues open. “The first moments of COVID were crazy and terrifying,” Habre says. They adapted and started delivering food from their pop-ups and restaurants. Habre also maintained a strong social media presence in order to connect with customers. “I think survival is the essence of creativity, and we were beyond creative during COVID,” he says.
That creativity got Addmind—and Dubai—back into expansion mode. Habre plans to open three more eateries in Dubai this year: Babylon and Raspoutine in Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), as well as Leña on the Palm. His past ventures were as successful as these three new establishments in the nightlife world.
Habre started his first nightclub Pulse in Beirut in 2001. He then set up Addmind two years later to build brands for the other venues he wanted to open. Habre believes that quality is crucial to any successful metropolitan venue. However, social media marketing and advertising are just as important, if perhaps more, according to Habre. It has been a way for Add-mind to connect with customers, many of whom are “communities of hyper-connected world travelers.” Each venue has its own unique identity on social media to “keep the conversation going” after a guest visits.
Addmind brought what Habre describes as “a flavor” to the entertainment scene in Beirut and in 2013, he opened his first venue in Dubai. “This is where I always wanted to be because it’s the strongest international city in the region for hospitality,” he says. Now Add-mind operates more than 20 restaurants, bars, and clubs in Dubai, London, Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Beirut. They have a reputation for combining quality food with creativity and theatrics—dramatic interiors with glass decanters dangling from the ceiling, open kitchens with up to 30 chefs, waterfalls, and roof–terrace venues overlooking the Dubai skyline.
“They attract the right crowd from the beginning, and the entertainment offering is always on point,” says Yousra Zaki, editor of Caterer Middle East magazine.
Dubai has a remarkable pace of opening restaurants, however, the business is not always profitable. Habre never lets his guard down. “You have to be quick, you have to follow the trends, you have to know what’s the next thing,” he says.
Addmind’s next goal is to expand internationally in London, but with an eye on Dubai. “This city makes you hungry for more,” he says. “It never stops.”
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