Best friends turned business partners Mira Lozi Al Naimi and Rama Dabbous Mamlouk turned a love of food and hosting their friends and family into two successful concepts — with a third, an off-shoot of the pair’s first F&B venture, launching this month.
What could easily have just stayed a chat between friends about ‘what might be nice to do one day’ became a reality for the the duo more than a decade ago when they launched themselves into the restaurant business.
“We were both mums and we wanted to get out the house,” Mamlouk says, only half jokingly when I meet the pair at the Dubai Media City branch of Circle Café to discuss their growing empire.
Though they had growing families at the time, the women — who now have six children between — saw something missing in the market and didn’t want to lose the chance to meet that need.
“There was a gap in the market to open a café and we saw an opportunity — there were not many cafés open back then [in Dubai], in 2002,” confirms Al Naimi. “Rama lived in the US [at the time] and was addicted to bagels but she couldn’t find the right bagel in Dubai. And I wanted my café culture — my salads, comfort food and sandwiches — and so this is how Circle started.”
Looking back, Mamlouk says Dubai Media City was “deserted”, compared with now but adds that the outlet they decided to take over had “a beautiful terrace with a lake view” so they saw plenty of potential.
“This used to be a Häagen-Dazs shop and we heard it was coming up [for lease], and the size was perfect,” she continues and describes this, their first outlet, as “our baby”.
Al Naimi adds: “Media City was very new and we liked the idea of being here — my father was a journalist. My mother used to joke that she wanted one of her daughters to be a journalist and I ended up opening up a café for them instead.”
She reveals that it took them about a year to get the space ready, admitting that they were six months behind schedule in opening, partly due to challenges surrounding their contractor at the time.
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