Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

UAE Portrait of a Nation: 40kg weight loss spurs Emirati dad into salad business

Yousif Al Hammadi hopes his healthy eating restaurants will change national mindset

Yousef Al Hammadi in the Chop’t branch in Masdar city. He hopes to expand the salad chain across the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National
Yousef Al Hammadi in the Chop’t branch in Masdar city. He hopes to expand the salad chain across the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National

Tucked away in a corner of Masdar City lies a small, boutique restaurant that one Emirati hopes could take a step towards transforming the nation’s health.

It is almost four years since Yousif Al Hammadi, 38, embarked on a mission to change the fast food culture he said has seeped into Emirati society, sending many on a pathway towards ill health.

In 2016, Mr Al Hammadi, a father of four, weighed 120 kilograms and found it difficult to eat healthily, in part due to his busy career as a petroleum engineer.

A trip to the United States inspired him to set up his own restaurant business and make drastic changes to his own eating habits.

We are now better informed how our poor eating choices and unhealthy diets increase the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

We now have more information now about the damage poor diet does, with cancer and lifestyle diseases. I used to know many people eating junk food seven days a week

Yousif Al Hammadi

“I found myself in America and I thought about doing something different with my life that would add value to society and give me a new challenge,” he said.

“I had an idea to open a burger restaurant, but I did not want to be just another copy of something that already existed.

“Then I looked at taking on a franchise of an existing business I had seen in America, but finally decided to do something from scratch.”

Although Mr Al Hammadi, who lives in Abu Dhabi, wanted to try something new, his dream of a healthy eating salad bar had to take a back seat at first while he found his feet in retailing.

With no previous experience in the food and beverage industry, his first attempt at a new restaurant was a small burger kitchen called Box’s.

When that started to do well, he opened a salad bar called Chop’t. He then took up an intense form of Thai boxing and CrossFit classes to shed more than 40kg in weight.

Swapping junk food for healthy salads and wraps also helped shift the kilos.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 21 JANUARY 2020. Yousef Al Hammadi’s restaurant Chop’t salad cafe in Masdar city. He is hoping to expand a chain of healthy eating restaurants across the UAE to encourage better choices when eating out. (Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Section:
Al Hammadi’s flagship salad bar in Masdar CIty. Reem Mohammed / The National

“Back in 2015 I found it very difficult to find a restaurant that had healthy options,” he said. “That’s what gave me the idea for Chop’t as there was clearly a gap in the market.

“I was determined to make a difference, and I still am.

“During my time in America, there were restaurants selling healthy, fresh food that gave people the option to create their own dishes from local ingredients.

“I changed my mentality towards food and it changed my life. I stopped eating junk food and began exercising. I found when we eat healthier, natural food and cook it with a bit of imagination you feel so much better.

“I managed to lose more than 40kg without surgery, just by changing my life through diet and exercise.”

The main Chop’t restaurant is in the International Renewable Energy Agency building in Masdar City and is proving popular with government workers in the area.

“There is always a queue outside my salad shop, which is encouraging that people are happy to make healthier choices now,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

“Now that I’ve have lost weight I can wear whatever I want. If I want to play sport, I can as I’m a lot slimmer.

“Without the right food, I will not have the energy to do this sport. Junk food is no use.”

A new delivery branch of Chop’t has just opened in Business Bay in Dubai and comes after another branch started up in Dubai Marina.

There are two more delivery restaurants in Abu Dhabi as well as the eat-in restaurant in Masdar City.

Mr Al Hammadi would one day like to see more healthy eating restaurants than junk food on sale.

“People are better educated and informed now. This is leading to a change and more are opting for healthier food.”

Updated: February 3, 2020 04:07 AM

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