Food entrepreneurs
Fatima Rabbani, Iman Nazemi, and Homaira Nasser-Zia started Afghan restaurant Kishmish last year Image Credit: Supplied

Home and away

A desire for home food prompted Fatima Rabbani, Iman Nazemi, and Homaira Nasser-Zia to open Kishmish, an Afghan restaurant in Dubai early last year.

“We tried several Afghan restaurants in Dubai and didn’t find anything that tasted like our hearty home food,” says Nazemi. “Kishmish is the first purely authentic Afghan restaurant using family recipes. The fact that we are personally there, running the kitchen, waiting on tables and speaking to customers, creates a true at home experience when dining with us.”

Although each partner put in start-up capital into the venture, they were helped by their location in the food hall, One Third, required less capital than a standalone restaurant.

Business has grown at an impressive rate of 40 per cent over since launch, and the trio opened their second location in Dubai Mall in July. Their biggest challenges so far have been staffing, consistency of supplies and copycat competitors, Rabbani adds.

While they’ve already been asked to franchise the concept to other GCC markets, they’re intent on fine tuning the concept before expanding any further.

“The market situation hasn’t been great recently and it’s been very competitive, however this only pushes us to do better and stay on top of the game,” Rabbani says.

Fresh and flavourful

From healthy lunch meetings to pho-eating challenges and accepting delivery orders via Facebook Messenger, Lily Hoa Nguyen has already made a splash with her 21st-century approach to business. But what keeps customers coming back to her Jumeirah Lakes Towers restaurant Vietnamese Foodies is her healthy, home-style food.

She seeks to create a balance of flavours and textures in her Southern Vietnamese recipes, which are cooked in water or broth rather than oil. The concept is clearly working.

“We have not broken even yet, but we expect to break even in six months to one year,” says Hoa Nguyen.

We see 2019 as a year of opportunities and challenges when the fittest players will survive and grow.

- Lily Hoa Nguyen, Founder, Vietnamese Foodies

The self-financed venture is one of the only casual dining Vietnamese restaurants in Dubai, and there have been several challenges along the way. “Rent and fitout costs are higher in Dubai than in many other countries,” says Hoa Nguyen, who began cooking at the age of five. “The second was to resolve operational issues after we started.”

Now she’s hoping to expand across the UAE. “We see 2019 as a year of opportunities and challenges when the fittest players will survive and grow.”

Sweet and sustainable

Hard on the rise of the conscious eating trend is Dana Ashkar, who caters to the market gap for a healthy sustainable candy brand with her CAHO vegan chocolates. The UAE resident launched her freezone-registered company on Christmas Day in 2017 and says she broke even last month, just over a year into operations. “The increasing demand for healthier chocolate is evidence of a profound challenge the industry faces locally and globally,” she says.

The increasing demand for healthier chocolate is evidence of a profound challenge the industry faces locally and globally.

- Dana Ashkar, Founder, Caho Chocolatier

A family history of diabetes led her to create healthy versions of desserts and chocolates, while consumers’ growing environmental consciousness prompted her to seek sustainable recipes free of palm oil, preservative and artificial ingredients. A graduate of the American University in Dubai, it took her a mere six months to create the brand, set up sourcing pipelines and initiate her first stores — all funded by her own money. She advises wannabe entrepreneurs to fix the flaws in their ideas. “Even if you think your idea or product is the best in market, if the market doesn’t like it or need it, it won’t sell.”

Delivering a passion

Kamilla Omarzay lost her corporate job at the beginning of 2016. “I couldn’t find another job so I started making healthy snacks at home and documenting them on social media. My page gained a lot of traction, and voila, here we are,” she says. She’s referring to The Snack Society, her delivery-only line of guilt-free snacks, all of which are free from gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, additives and preservatives. Prompted to seek solutions for her own digestive issues, she launched the brand in March 2016, and has since seen the business acquire name recognition status within the UAE.

It is a very competitive and small market.

- Kamilla Omarzay, Founder, The Snack Society

The hardest thing about being a food entrepreneur in the UAE is to get the sales figures up, she says. “It is a very competitive and small market.” Nevertheless, the Afghan native anticipates her bootstrapped venture will break even next year as awareness of healthy eating grows and vegan foods become popular.