Across the world, the culinary landscape is evolving. In recent years, home cooks have been taking the leap from hosting intimate supper clubs to operating successful ghost kitchens and opening restaurants.
Supper clubs act as a testing ground, allowing these aspiring chefs to refine their recipes, gain feedback, and build a loyal following as they transition from supper clubs to ghost kitchens and beyond.
One of Dubai’s biggest success stories comes from Sultan Chatila, founder of Eleven Green, a homegrown burger restaurant recently opened in Jumeirah.
However, before customers lined up to enjoy burgers, Sultan and his wife, Kinda, operated a Mediterranean-focused supper club. From there, the pair participated in a local Battle of the Burgers competition, eventually participating in the World Food Championships in Texas with their signature Bull burger. After winning third place, Eleven Green was born. Chatila says, “It all started with the humble supper club five years ago when Kinda and I founded Tano’s at 8. The supper club fueled our passion for food and creativity and made what seemed impossible a reality.”
A PERSONAL TOUCH
For home cooks looking to transform their culinary talents into a business, ghost kitchens provide an accessible and cost-effective solution. These spaces allow those starting to focus solely on cooking, streamlining operations, and reaching a wider audience through online platforms.
Dalia Dogmoch, founder of Zinn Cafe and author of the cookbook Food, Love, and Life, had a different approach. “Food delivery seemed to be the way to go during the pandemic. We operated for a year, during which I learned a lot. Although the food was well received, the delivery logistics and the ghost kitchen margins did not make sense for Zinn, the kind of food we serve, the personal touch we add, and our customer’s value.”
“It immediately clicked when the Republiks (Fit and Studio) team approached me to open at their location. I love seeing regulars’ reactions when they eat and love dishes I grew up with, and I realize that’s what was missing in ghost kitchens – the personal experience as a chef seeing people enjoy the food you love,” adds Dogmoch.
By teaming up with delivery platforms, food aggregators, or established restaurants, these aspiring chefs are tapping into existing customer bases, benefiting from established logistics, and expanding their reach.
Kunwal Safdar is the head chef and creator of Moreish by K, which started in early 2020 as a pop-up. A week later, a supper club was announced and sold out for six weeks in 24 hours. From there, the concept evolved. What makes Dubai different as a market, Safdar says, is that it gives people the platform to do many things they might not have been able to do back home. “I would not have done a supper club in London.”
With the growth and continued success of Moreish by K, there has been a conversation about opening a restaurant. Safdar says, “I’m in a unique place where I create products and speak to my guests about them as I serve them. This is a focus group, and the feedback gives me the luxury of working on these products with absolute conviction.”
A recent collaboration led the movement of the brand into the UK. Her Caribbean recipe kits with Naksha Collections are being well-received across the UK, with Wholefoods, Harrods, and other major retailers to be announced soon.
CHALLENGES FOR HOMEGROWN CONCEPT
Sharing her journey, Chef Gabriela Chamorro, founder of the popular supper club Girl and the Goose, says, “From a chef’s perspective, supper clubs are great playing grounds to test new ideas, flavors, and concepts.”
Chamorro, who worked as a cabin crew in Dubai for 13 years, always wanted to become a chef.
“During my layovers or holidays, I took every opportunity to take cooking classes and learned from some of the best chefs, including street vendors. I also kept hosting social dinners whenever possible.
In August 2019, she started the Girl and the Goose. Chamorro says that in a city with a wide range of impressive F&B offerings, she was still determining if people would enjoy Nicaraguan food or the experience she wanted to create.
As Chamorro looks ahead, she says, “Opening a homegrown concept in Dubai is a challenge, not just because of the finance and licensing issues. Dubai is a very competitive city. The biggest challenge is finding a suitable space in the right location with the right deal, especially in a city filled with big international brands and hospitality groups.”
For those home cooks looking to start their journey, she says one of the critical factors is the ability to leverage social media and online platforms. Through storytelling, sharing enticing food photos, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and engaging narratives with the audience, Chamorro says, “Culinary entrepreneurs can attract customers, generate buzz, and create a sense of community around their brand.”
Chef Junior Nadje, founder of the supper club Chef Modern, who previously worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and came to Dubai in 2014 for a culinary role at the One & Only, has chosen to go in a different order than others.
He says, “I always wanted to have my chef’s table. I saw famous chefs running supper clubs in New York and realized this was an easy way to showcase my creation. I started to do pop-ups in a few restaurants in Paris, Abidjan, Belgrade, Riyadh, and Dubai, and people loved the concept. While currently a supper club, in the future, I want to have my chef’s table in a more permanent space. I am currently in discussion with a few owners in Dubai.”
For home cooks, the journey to success involves many steps. Establishing a physical space in a supper club allows them to cultivate a loyal customer base, and showcase their culinary vision. Moving to the next level requires careful planning, financial considerations, and a deep understanding of their target market, but it can be a rewarding culmination of their culinary dreams.
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