x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shine a light

Saloon If you beam it, they will come. A pastry shop in the capital gets a bright new marketing tool.

Ya Zaein staff:
Ya Zaein staff: "We're just trying to make our special mark on the area."

If you beam it, they will come. A pastry shop in the capital gets a bright new marketing tool. One morning almost a month ago, Mohammed al Amer woke up in Abu Dhabi, drove to Dubai, and paid Dh1,700 for a 3000 watt spotlight. That evening he drove back to Abu Dhabi and stowed the light in a back room at Ya Zaein, the small restaurant he manages. On February 22 he consulted the restaurant's owner, and they decided it was time. At 7.50pm that night al Amer wheeled the light (it has wheels) out of Ya Zaein's front door, plugged it into a free socket, pointed it toward the sky above Airport Road, set a 45 degree sweep and switched it on.

At first he was disappointed. "The man who sold it to me said the range was 10 kilometres," he recalls. "But it goes something like one kilometre." Still, the beam was impressive: people could see it from blocks away. Al Amer let it run for three hours, gave it a one hour rest, then turned it on for another hour before going home. He's done the same every night since. "It's a special publicity thing," he explains. "We don't really need to advertise normally. Sometimes we put something on the radio or in Al Ittihad, but everyone already knows about us. We're just trying to make our special mark on the area." (Along these lines, Ya Zaein also has a machine that projects laser-light displays on an exterior wall - and has outfitted its outdoor seating area with a small tiled pond that houses goldfish and a live turtle.)

Al Amer and Ya Zaein's owner thought of the idea together, and they have not decided how long they will keep shining the light. "We might get rid of it in two days or two weeks or two years," al Amer says. "But I really don't see why we would remove it." As for the power bill: "We don't care what it is. We'll pay." The bulb had 600 hours of life when new, so the light will probably keep probing the night skies for at least three more months.

So, is it working? Are people noticing the light, walking towards it, reaching Ya Zaein and realising: "hey, I'd like some manakeesh"? Al Amer says it's too early tell, though it has been easier to give night-time customers driving directions over the telephone. He's also been getting a lot of remarks from regulars - some of whom are so used to breezing through the front door that they don't notice the light when they walk in.

"Some people come in and say: 'Maybe the light is coming from a military base,' even though it is right there," al Amer notes, chuckling. A quick poll of people walking around the neighbourhood on a recent evening revealed several competing theories of the light's origin, including: the house of a rich man, the birthday party of a rich child, a big store with a sale, a new restaurant, a military base.

Back at Ya Zaein, Rex Velasco, a waiter, was dusting off the light while its beam cut through the air, revealing bits of sand still swirling from the weekend's storm. Al Amer watched from his usual perch, a counter-height chair behind the cash register, with a mix of pride, bemusement and slight buyer's remorse. "I really would like 10 kilometres," he sighed. "But it's just not the case, is it?" * Peter C Baker