Shafeena Yusuff Ali: On building an empire and food trend predictions for 2018
Most restauranteurs spend the entirety of their careers in search of the elusive work-life balance. Shafeena Yussuf Ali is not one of them. Besides being the CEO of a multi-million dollar establishment, Tablez Food Company, she’s a mom to four kids.
“I feel it essentially boils down to two things: time management and prioritising. Work-life balance to me is the prioritising of every hour of every day between children, family, work, and study,” shares Shafeena, who has a major in finance from the prestigious Richmond college (London) and is currently pursuing an Executive MBA at Oxford University.
But, it isn’t just her intuition, multitasking abilities, eye for detail, and patience that assisted her to evolve a truly customer-centric culinary empire. Her father, M A Yusuff Ali, who presides over the LuLu Group, remains her biggest source of guidance and inspiration.
“Since starting Tablez in 2011, this business is more than about profits; it’s a living entity built with purpose, passion and values,” shares the Abu Dhabi-based businesswoman, who traces her roots back to Thrissur. We speak to Shafeena, to dissect the latest trends within the food and beverages industry.
*What concepts will shape the restaurant industry in 2018?
In my opinion, people are willing more than ever to experiment with new dishes and cuisines. In such a scenario, engaging customers through visual content on social media to drive brand conversations is a must.
Comfort foods are making a strong comeback as an occasional indulgence that results in a good frame of mind. At the same time, let’s not forget the customer shift to products that are sugar-free, organic, and have a low calorific value.
*Who’s behind each food festival, new dish, and regular menu re-engineering initiatives at each of your outlets across the Gulf, India, and Sri Lanka?
I work closely with our Research and Development (R&D) team based in Abu Dhabi. The R&D squad travels around the world to keep abreast with emerging trends and evolve new dishes. We are always learning and we take each market, where our outlets are, and customise menus accordingly to suit a variety of consumer tastes and behaviour.
Of course, the tendency to experiment and try out new cuisines is fast gaining currency world over amongst customers and this is a good sign for us. Our experienced chefs are given free reign to encourage creativity and this has definitely benefited us in the long run.
*There’s talk in the grapevine that, over the next year, Tablez is planning to rope in over eight new global food concepts/brands to India with a combined investment of $50 million. Care to comment?
Currently, we are evaluating the market. If the winds are favourable, we will introduce the concepts we are currently managing in the UAE. Of the 7 brands in UAE, two are homegrown: Peppermill, an Indian-inspired restaurant, and Bloomsbury’s, a bistro serving comfort food from around the world.
The other 5 franchise brands are Famous Dave’s (a barbecue concept), Grimaldi’s (Coal brick-oven pizzeria), Galito’s (South African flame-grilled chicken), Sugar Factory (celebrity-endorsed designer sweets), and Genghis Grill (an Asian grill house). We have already opened American ice cream parlour chain Cold Stone Creamery, Bloomsbury’s, and Galito’s in India.
On her shelves
Contrary to popular belief, Shafeena’s bookshelves aren’t lined with Julia Child or Alain Ducasse. A self-confessed bookworm and collector of rare first-edition titles, one book she considers her prized possession is As The Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer.
“Books move me. Reading has remained my forte since my childhood,” says the 31-year-old, who also enjoys Jamaica Kincaid and Khaled Hosseini. “This particular book by Archer features the amazing story of an enterprising individual building everything with pure passion and hard work,” she adds.
For aspiring restauranteurs
* Trends show customers worldwide are increasingly foregoing sugared and carbonated drinks.
* Home delivery has grown big time. It’s quickly becoming a key segment of the food business.
* The menu must keep evolving to prevent stagnation and innovation figures majorly in the scheme of things.
* It is also important to be transparent in the supply chain so that customers know where their food comes from.