Kenza and Patrick Jarjour. Kenza and Patrick Jarjour.

A lanky cactus serves as a landmark for the otherwise non-descript entrance to Inked in Al Quoz’s Alserkal Avenue. Opened in September 2016, it’s not just a restaurant, or an incubator or a performance space; it’s all of those things and the brainchild of Kenza and Patrick Jarjour.

To design their visionary concept, the Jarjours hired Beirut-based studio Far Architects, led by Karine Fakhry and Diane Sawaya. Inspired by a warehouse typology in the industrial district of Dubai, the steel construction of Inked inside Alserkal Avenue’s aluminium warehouse recreates the interstitial spaces where people tend to gather and socialise — stairs, floating platforms and courtyards.

The project was designed as a flexible 750 m2 (8,000 ft2) space with the ability to house a diverse roster of concepts from conferences to fashion shows, each with its own setting. The vast unobstructed main space comprises a 9m (29ft) high ceiling with a skylight.

The founders, who’ve known each other since childhood, promised themselves that they would have a restaurant one day not knowing where, how or when.

Kenza says: “I was in finance and then I decided to take a jump and do what I actually wanted to do. I did an MBA in hospitality management at IMHI in Paris and after that I worked with Alain Ducasse, opening his restaurant Edam in Doha at the Museum of Islamic art.” Meanwhile, Patrick, who had worked in events for years, made the move to Dubai to work in real estate with his brother.

The couple started dating in 2012 and it was while walking around Berlin on their honeymoon in 2014, that their entrepreneurial instincts kicked in.

“We discovered the underground food scene in Berlin and decided that we wanted to do something in Dubai around that,” says Patrick. “We had another project that didn’t work out. It was a very simple concept that we wanted in malls and they were not a fan of the concept because it wasn’t a franchise and five or six years ago everything was a franchise. So this is how we created Good Vibes Market. And we said that if you’re a franchise, you can’t come. The newer you are, the better. We wanted to show people that it’s completely different when the owner is behind the counter explaining what’s happening.”

The street food platform, also based in Al Quoz’s Alserkal Avenue, served as a meeting place for food-based entrepreneurs to connect with the local community and spread “the good vibes”. Though the market is no longer up and running, Patrick is proud of what they achieved saying, “There are a few concepts that kicked off nicely after Good Vibes Market and we’re super happy for them.”

Building on the success of their first venture the Jarjours felt Alserkal Avenue was also the right location for the next one. Kenza explains: “When we decided to do this project, it was here or nothing. This was the only place where we felt we could connect and be able to say what we had to say because it’s authentic and at the same time we have the freedom to express ourselves. The founder of Alserkal Avenue is a great supporter of home-grown concepts so we had no doubt that this is where we wanted to be. Being surrounded by different artists and creatives makes it so interesting.”

When they went in to present the concept to Al Serkale, they still hadn’t come up with a name but, in keeping with their spontaneous MO, it came to Kenza one morning at 6am. “I open my eyes and she says ‘what do you think about Inked?’ The moment she told me I said ‘done’. It resonated so we went for it,” says Patrick.

Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the pair who entered into discussions with Alserkal in August 2014 and opened just over two years later. Patrick explains: “I didn’t know if we were going to have a restaurant licence here because it’s Al Quoz, no gas, no electricity so everything was a big challenge but at the same time our goal was ‘let’s start’. Let’s start and then we’ll figure it out.”

Kenza adds: “We took a big leap of faith because we had no benchmark. Not here or abroad. There was no one doing the same thing where we could say ‘ok let’s look at this’ or ‘they did it like that’ so we said ‘let’s try our luck’ and we started working on it.”

Story continues below