Driven by their desire to create home-grown food concepts that bring people together, Amal Al Marri and Deem Al Bassam founded the Independent Food Company, a UAE-based hospitality company. Today, the firm has several groundbreaking F&B outlets, including SALT, Switch, Parker’s, Candy, Grind, Somewhere and Public. We learn more.
How did it all start?
We wanted to reimagine the dining scene in Dubai, creating our own rules and exploring the boundaries of the F&B industry to truly understand what engages people. We aimed to bring much more depth and emotion to dining, away from franchises and ordinary experiences.
It all started with Switch. Deem opened this restaurant based the advice of consultants. They told her that a top, luxurious location was the key to success in the F&B industry, so she opened the branch in Dubai Mall. A few years later, we decided to create a concept that was against all these rules and opened SALT, a food truck in the middle of nowhere. It garnered a lot of attention, and that’s when we realized that people really do love simple things; location doesn’t matter but rather the experience that you offer your customers. If the experience sparks emotions, then you have created a memory, which is priceless.
We then realized that by giving your brand a story, a soul and a mission, it creates a community around it because you have treated the brand as human, and humans will respond to that. More concepts followed, and we made sure that they all had strong stories, starting with Parkers, then Somewhere and finally Public.
What is your motto for your brands?
Create your own rules. Eat with your eyes.
What has been the biggest challenge?
By far the craziest challenge was having to shut down our restaurants during lockdown.
In the blink of an eye, the world turned upside down right in front of us. We had a minute to process all our restaurants shutting down and come up with an action plan to adapt.
We started with picking existing items from our menus that we could promote.
We were always against home delivery, so it was quite difficult to adjust to the delivery scene. We believed that you couldn’t enjoy the full SALT experience by just having the food but found a way to cater to our customers during these unusual times.
Can you give us an update on the culinary scene in the UAE?
It’s definitely a booming industry, and we love to see local businesses flourish and explore the endless boundaries. It’s by far the most interesting industry to keep an eye on.
What do you think the new normal will look like?
We’re hoping for the best. There has definitely been a shift toward learning how to create experiences regardless of what’s happening around us; that in itself is a great discovery that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We definitely think creative and crazy ideas are coming our way!
What are your plans for the near future?
We intend to keep surprising everyone!
What advice can you give young entrepreneurs?
If you do anything with passion, people will react with passion — it’s that simple.
As women, what would you like to say to other women?
Trust your gut; we are very intuitive.