Thug life to mug life: Former Outlawz member opens coffee shop in RAK
Two decades ago, Mutah Beale’s outlook could have been best described as “thug life”.
The American former gangsta-rapper was part of The Outlawz, the group founded by the late hip-hop star Tupac Shakur.
However, after embracing Islam in 2001, Beale left the group and moved to Saudi Arabia, where he currently works as a youth instructor.
The 38-year-old is now singing a different tune – “mug life” – a twist on the street slang so often used in his former raps, and the motto of his new culinary venture.
Opened last November and situated on a prime location on the Ras Al Khaimah Corniche, Mug Ways Cafe marks the debut of Beale’s specialist-coffee shop.
The cafe’s design blends well with its coastal location: there is plenty of wooden panelling, terracotta coloured walls, leafy plants, comfortable seating and #muglife painted prominently on one of the walls.
In the corner is a large coffee station set up with beakers and strainers. A glimmering coffee machine is also on hand for those wanting their lattes and cappuccinos. Coffee prices range from Dh30 for specially brewed siphon coffee to Dh12 for an espresso. A limited pastry menu offers bites such as Dutch mini-pancakes (Dh15), crêpes (Dh25), waffles (Dh15) and chocolate cake (Dh12 per slice).
Beale, who drives down regularly from Riyadh to RAK, was at his cafe last week enjoying iftar with an assortment of customers – largely Emirati youngsters familiar with his spiritual and motivational online lectures, and a few hip-hop fans. He says the cafe is an avenue to explore his love for a good brew – a passion that stretches back to his childhood in New Jersey.
“I also have some Cuban heritage,” he says. “Some of my earliest memories of coffee are when some relatives brought over Cuban coffee to our house. Now I don’t know how they manage to get it past customs, but I remember I loved it so much, and since then I was hooked.”
However, finding patrons to match his love for good coffee was a challenge when the cafe first opened.
With the cafe strictly serving single-origin beans directly arriving from various farms in Ethiopia, Mexico, El Salvador and Rwanda, Beale found it rather galling when customers asked for instant coffee.
“When we are talking about speciality coffee, we are talking something with a grade of 80 points and above. To make a comparison, the coffee that you will find in a place like a regular coffee chain is like 60 points,” says Beale. “We realised that we had to educate people about speciality coffee and so far it has been going very well.”
This drive to educate and evolve is part of the cafe’s ethos.
“Coffee is part of our lifestyle,” says Dutch entrepreneur and the cafe’s co-owner Anthony De Bruijn, who contacted Beale to bring his Mug Ways brand to the UAE after securing the RAK location.
“Unlike in the West, over here the hustle is not done in the streets,” says De Bruijn. “It is mostly done in cafes and hotels over a cup of coffee.”
With Mug Ways Cafe looking to expand to Dubai and Muscat, De Bruijn hopes the #muglife lifestyle will grow into a health and fitness movement. A boxer himself, De Bruijn can be found every Friday afternoon leading a team of joggers into the RAK mountains for high-altitude training.
“We normally start at the cafe with a few cups of coffee and then head out, train there and return to the cafe,” he says. “That kind of productive day for me is also what #muglife is about.” As a big fan of Tupac and The Outlawz, De Bruijn says working with Beale is a dream come true.
“Mutah is dedicated and keeps his commitments,” he says. “That’s because he comes from that Outlawz code that says you just don’t say things and don’t follow through. This is a code of ethics that I also follow.”
While acknowledging that both the music and coffee business are fiercely competitive, Beale is more than happy to be away from the recording studio.
“The music industry is corrupt and too cut-throat,” he says. “At least in the coffee business you can go asleep at night knowing that you are serving something healthy to your customers.”
• Mug Ways Cafe is at Al Qawasim Corniche, Ras Al Khaimah. Ramadan hours are 7pm to 4am. Visit www.mwcafe.com