Joe Barza thinks going back to basics is the way forward for local concepts.

Ankush is a journalist hailing from India, who has edited and written for publications in his home country, the UAE, US, and UK. Previously the editor of Gulf Business in Dubai and of Entrepreneur in India, Ankush is a keen student of economics, a follower of Manchester United since 1996 and a disciple of Archer.

In 2016, Joe Barza,along with photographer Roger Moukarzel, launched Kitchinet.com, an online cooking hub for professionals and amateurs.

Is this a good time to be getting into the restaurant business in the MENA region?

Depends where and what you are running. In Qatar, where I am involved in opening new restaurants, the market is hot. Typically, if you have great food, the right marketing, and importantly, the right people behind it, a restaurant can run in hell. That is why, as a chef, I always choose the clients I work with. They are too many people in the business right now who get tired after five or six months, and either want to change course drastically or simply shut shop. That’s why I don’t really work with individuals anymore.

Too many restaurants are popping up and closing soon in cities like Dubai and Doha. What gives? Is it the economic slowdown?

I don’t think it’s a result of the economic crisis. Good food works every time. But there are too many people who get excited when they visit a place on a Friday, see that its full, think it’s because of the décor and pour in their money into setting up a place they think will work. Four months down the line, some friend tells them how they should be serving X cuisine and not Y, and they change it all up again. One year down the line, that décor is marked by empty chairs, and no one is eating Y cuisine either. Excuses come in: The weather is not right, not enough parking etc. Then come the squabbles between the team. What do you do? You walk away. 

So, what concepts are working in local F&B? What are people still coming through the doors for?

I think we are going back to the basics. People are getting tired of the fancy fine dining places. And instead, are looking at something clever and right-priced. People want to sit in a nice place, eat good food, and not get fleeced for it. That is why the humble Italian restaurant works. That is why you see people gravitating towards clever fast food, and concepts like food trucks. The average Arab or expat eats out about three times a week. How do you make sure it’s your restaurant two out of three times? Do the basics right: Find a great location, serve great food, price it right, market it well, and very importantly, listen to the right people, including the chef.