Dubai’s daring food entrepreneurs

Dubai's food entrepreneurs are bringing fresh ideas to the table and challenging the status quo. Vision examines the industry's latest trends, from food trucks to private chefs and unique delivery services

While Dubai continues to serve as a regional hotbed for the latest global epicurean trends –most recently welcoming the Palazzo Versace’s Michelin-starred revolving chef concept Enigma – a new cadre of culinary wizardry is slowly but surely shaping up in the city.

This nascent wave of gourmet excellence is characterised by the “T” factor, or the take-out 2.0, trucks and technology.

Dubai loves convenience and it’s no surprise the emirate is the Middle East’s launching pad for food delivery firm Deliveroo. Since its launch in London in 2013, this food tech start-up has seen phenomenal global growth anchored on its customer promise of ‘food delivery 2.0’: delivering food from a city’s premier restaurants in under 32 minutes.

“Whether you’re in Sydney or Singapore, Deliveroo wants to get amazing food to you quicker than ever before. It’s a promise that’s consistently failed when you consider that the average wait time is 45 minutes,” says Anis Harb, Deliveroo Regional General Manager.

“We make the process timely and transparent, thanks to technology. You can track your driver through our app. Plus, unlike your regular food delivery platforms, our value proposition means that consumers can enjoy their favorite foods from some of Dubai’s exclusive eateries--restaurants like Mythos, Fume and Tom & Serg--that typically don’t offer delivery because it detracts from their core business.”

It’s a value proposition that’s seen the start-up score on a number of fronts, from increasing investment dollars pumped into the platform (the last round saw US$100 million injected for international expansion), aggressive global expansion to 50 cities across 12 countries (the Dubai debut was in December 2015) and increasing uptake by both consumers and restaurants (Deliveroo currently cites more than 5,000 restaurants worldwide delivering via the platform).

With 150 restaurants on board in Dubai and a purported 30 per cent growth in delivery orders week-on-week, it’s clear that Deliveroo has hit that sweet spot that countless Dubai residents crave. “Dubai’s dense urban population, growing levels of disposable income and vibrant food culture make it a perfect fit for Deliveroo. The win-win is that consumers get high-quality food delivered quickly and conveniently, while restaurants leverage a new and potentially significant source of revenue,” notes Harb.

And technology is playing a big role in unleashing a dramatic transformation across the spectrum of the food industry, from sensors that help farmers improve crop yields to big data and apps that allow consumers to make more informed choices or seek convenient culinary indulgences.

Closer to home, technology is redefining a hitherto untouched culinary space, one that goes beyond bringing just a meal to your door, but instead brings the brainchild behind it: the chef.

A regional pioneer in the private chef on-demand arena, ChefXChange, was co-founded by Karl Naim and Marc Washington, business school buddies turned entrepreneurs who wanted to make avant-garde cuisine accessible to fellow foodies like themselves who enjoyed hosting at home.

“ChefXChange intends to be everyone’s private chef,” states Naim. “When you consider the average dining spend of people in Dubai, there’s no reason one can’t enjoy that same decadence in the comfort of a venue of your own choice. Moreover, it’s an interesting and dynamic way of bringing the creators of food experiences closer to consumers, infusing intimacy into one of life’s most pleasurable facets--food.”

This ‘online marketplace for foodies’ officially went live in 2015 and within a year has already expanded operations to London, Beirut and Washington D.C., with more cities in the pipeline. Diners can explore the website, interact directly with the chefs and create a curated and customised private chef experience together with some of the city’s promising culinary talent. All this comes at prices that won't break the bank – depending on the cuisine and chef, menus are priced between AED 50-180 per person. There’s no chopping or cleaning up required as the chef takes charge of your kitchen from start to finish.

Then there are food trucks. Food entrepreneurs and hoteliers are well versed with the tastes of Dubai diners, where uniqueness proves pivotal in attracting and retaining consumer interest. While several establishments seek to meet that need with imported and franchised dining concepts, one homegrown entrepreneur, Alexandre Teodoresco, is committed to celebrating locally-developed food concepts.

Teodoresco, a Montreal native, leveraged his impressive track record in developing and executing collaborative cultural and arts concepts between the cities of Montreal and Dubai, towards an aching homegrown need for events that fostered street life. His debut attempt with “Street Nights” in 2013 met with a phenomenal response, with over 7,000 people making their way to the back streets of the emirate’s Al Quoz area to indulge in music, arts and food. “That was my litmus test and it proved that people want more social options that extend beyond malls, restaurants and five-star hotels,” recalls Teodoresco.

Earlier this year, the independent cultural consultant launched his most exciting initiative yet-- Truckers DXB, a marriage of two of Dubai’s recognised food institutions, the well-entrenched weekend brunch and the food truck craze. The opening event in mid-February saw a waitlist of well over a 1,000 people at the Emirates Golf Club.

Thronging crowds indulged in an array of flavoursome offerings from over a dozen food trucks, including Pakistani soul food stalwart - Moti Roti, Goan street food favorite - GoBai, Tex-Mex tricksters Calle Tacos and burger experts Yumtingz. Through the fortnightly event, Teodoresco hopes to create a compelling platform for the city’s food truck entrepreneurs, one that he plans to expand to the other emirates as well.

“The food truck has too often been an accessory, relegated to the sidelines of some large music or social event. With Truckers DXB, the food truck is front and centre. The onus is now on the food truck owners themselves to keep things fresh and interesting,” says Teodoresco. “Dubai has some dynamite food entrepreneurs who are daring to do something different. This is the beginning of a people-driven platform for homegrown food entrepreneurs.”