Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 February 2020

Day in the life: Dubai restaurateur adds a bit of mystery

Entrepreneur behind restaurant brands such as Operation: Falafel and Smoky Beach regularly mystery shops at his own outlets to ensure the service is up to scratch.
Manhal Naser is the chief executive and co-founder of AWJ Investments. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Manhal Naser is the chief executive and co-founder of AWJ Investments. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Manhal Naser is the chief executive and co-founder of AWJ Investments, the company behind restaurant brands such as Operation: Falafel, Awani, and Smoky Beach. Mr Naser, from Jordan, was passionate about food from a very young age and later used his background in retail with international brands to develop the company’s food concepts. The 42-year-old lives in Jebel Ali with his wife, Dima, and their three young children.


I wake up at around this time every morning; I don’t sleep long, and only manage approximately five hours a night. The first thing I do is read the news headlines and see how the markets are performing. By the time I’ve done this and I’ve drunk my coffee, my youngest son wakes up so I spend some time with him. We watch TV together – usually something like Barney. My other children and my wife are also awake by this point.


If it’s term time and my turn to take the children to school, I’ll leave the house now. If not, I head straight to the gym, where I have a 45-minute workout. I do this every day, as I like to stay as healthy as I can. I follow this with a protein shake and an egg white omelette for breakfast.


I arrive at my office, which is located on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. Our financial reports from the previous day arrive on my desk, which show me how our outlets have performed. I also get a customer service report – this usually determines whether I’ll have a good or bad day. I take customer service extremely seriously and believe this feedback is what can make or break a business. I always put myself in the shoes of the customer to handle these queries effectively and ensure that we’re always giving the best service possible.


I meet the company’s heads of department for around 20 minutes each and we discuss any issues that need to be dealt with during the day. I also have meetings with the design teams behind the concepts we’re developing, or with potential franchisees. The thing I enjoy the most about my job is that it allows me to be creative every day. I never get bored, as there is always something new to be working on. Also, being in hospitality means that I deal with people on a daily basis, which creates a great sense of community. The downside, however, is that operations never stop; this business is 24/7, which can definitely affect your life if you allow it to.


Members of my team will call around three or four of our outlets to order food to be delivered to various locations. These orders then end up at our offices, as the purpose of this exercise is to do a mystery shop. I taste everything that arrives to ensure it’s of the best quality and offer feedback to the relevant team.


I have a quick lunch, which is usually something like a grilled chicken breast and some vegetables.


I sit and do some more work on our latest brand, Lulu and Murjan, which we will be launching in the near future. I wanted to come up with a concept that added to the market rather than cannibalised it, so I thought of combining Arabic food with a trendy look and feel. When coming up with ideas for restaurant brands that will be successful and stand the test of time, it’s important to start with strong, unique concepts that have special DNA. People are always seeking new products, however, they’re also comfort­able and familiar with the old so it requires some balancing to get it right.


I leave the office and head to one of our outlets. I visit as a customer to observe the team, try the food, and experience the ambience. These exercises are vital, as customers are the most important part of our business and they always come first. I like to think of our relationship with them as a long-term one, like a marriage. As a customer myself, prompt service is important to me.


I’m home by the early evening to spend quality time with my children before they go to bed. Once they’re asleep, my wife and I go out, meet with friends and socialise. I relax by reading books. One of my favourites is Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, as it taught me that nothing is impossible and determination leads to success. I read biographies of famous people to see how they became successful.

In my spare time, I play squash, as well as tennis and ­table tennis. I go to sleep around midnight.


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Updated: August 6, 2016 04:00 AM



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