Dubai: Japan-inspired eatery Wagamama, which opened its flagship restaurant in Dubai Mall on Wednesday, has been mismanaged in the UAE, losing ground to lesser brands, according to its top executive in the country.
He was speaking to Gulf News at the company’s new restaurant, which is located at the entrance to the mall by the fountains, some of Dubai’s most prime real estate for food and beverage.
“They instead focused on other brands, instead of Wagamama. When this was realised, there was a change in management, and the new team came in, in March 2017. Myself, and the new chief executive for Al Fahim [RMAL Hospitality’s parent company], and we quickly realised that we had a great brand, and we hadn’t discovered its full potential yet, and that was a shame,” Madbak added.
Shortly after joining, Palestinian-American Madbak made it his top priority to sign an “iconic” location, inking the deal for the Dubai Mall property less than nine months after assuming his new role. “This is the best location in town, and gives the brand justice.”
The new restaurant’s opening is instructive. As the exclusive franchise holder in the UAE for the UK-based brand, RMAL’s wider ambition is to make Wagamama “the country’s Asian cuisine of choice,” according to Madbak.
He is candid about the company’s previous shortcomings in respect to the handling of the Wagamama brand, and the state of the competition. “It is a shame that other players that entered the market after us have stolen that thunder … we need to get that position back,” Madbak said.
Refusing to name the other companies he is referring to, he adds: “We believe we have something that our competitors can’t match, so we want to take advantage of that.”
If the Dubai Mall outlet signals a new era for Wagamama under RMAL Hospitality’s stewardship, then the new era is set to be a busy one for the brand.
The company says that it wants to open a total of nine new restaurants over the next three years, having a total of 15 properties in the UAE by 2020.
Madbak has made it a priority to open in the capital: “We’re looking at two sites, one in Yas Mall and one in Abu Dhabi Mall, they’re both on offer with me right now. I haven’t decided yet. I might do both.”
Sharjah’s first Wagamama will open at the new Zero6 mall sometime in the second quarter of 2018.
Elsewhere, Madbak said he needed the brand to be in Mall of the Emirates, Mirdif City Centre, and Deira City Centre.
“I really think that part of the reason I went after the Dubai Mall location is that this will help me secure other locations,” Madbak said, adding that he hoped other mall operators would see the success of Wagamama in Dubai Mall, and see the potential for their own malls.
Previously, Madbak said that the restaurants, such as the one in the Greens, or on JBR, had been “little, tiny shops hidden away somewhere,” and mall owners had not understood the product’s possibilities.
“Two months from now, the meetings are going to be a lot different … when we propose Wagamama, they’re going to listen,” he added.