Caterer Power List 2014: The Top 10 profiled

Why were these people ranked the most powerful in region's F&B industry?

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1. Ajaz Sheikh
Global managing director, Zuma & Oblix

Ajaz Sheikh is a busy man. We can’t even get him to our studio for a photoshoot, and he’s booked to attend two events on the same night we finally pin him down at Zuma in DIFC. But he’s loving it. Sheikh has been a fixture in the region since he moved here five years ago and has his finger firmly on the pulse of the F&B industry.

After half a decade of boosting the fortunes of Zuma in the Middle East, he has been chosen to lead the operations of Zuma and Oblix — across the world. And for that, and more, he ranks Number One in this year’s Caterer Middle East Power List.

Up until six months ago, Sheikh was the regional managing director for Zuma. In that time, he has led the Zuma Dubai team to become the defacto independent restaurant benchmark. This year, he celebrated the sixth anniversary of the restaurant, with continued double-digit growth in a market where new operations are opening weekly.

If that wasn’t enough, it turned out that the venue has been placed in the S. Pellegrino’s annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the third time in a row. Sheikh is 100% involved in every aspect of operations: from checking reservation lists himself to being on the floor on busy weekend nights to keep an eye on proceedings.

In 2014, he also opened Zuma Abu Dhabi to rave reviews. His work led the team to opening on time and on budget — and achieved profit within the first month of operations, something Sheikh is very proud of. And rightly so.
The UAE was not enough. He opened Zuma Datcha Peninsula in south Turkey two months after Zuma Abu Dhabi, and oversaw the operations of Zuma Istanbul, which is now on a refurbishment programme.

As of now, these are the four Zuma outlets he is overseeing in the Middle East. But he does reveal that at least two more concepts will be seen from his stable — one in Dubai in 2015, and another to follow in 2016.

Busy though he is with Zuma, Sheikh has been instrumental as an internal consultant for the mother company’s other brands’ expansion in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

And indeed, it is testament to Sheikh’s hard work that this year he was promoted to become the global managing director of the company. He’s excited about the move, and says: “I’m super proud as someone from the Middle East will head the global operations and the growth of the business.” As are we.

Sheikh will now divide his time between London and Dubai, as he takes over Zuma and Oblix’s global operations and gets to know the teams from around the world. But he’s not letting go of the Middle East (or his pad here!) just yet.

Sheikh will continue to keep a firm control on the popular Middle East operations he’s built into the buzzword it is in the independent restaurant market, as “they are financially vital to our company”.

He’s already dived headfirst into his expanded responsibilities; he’s spearheading the expansion in the US, as he gets involved with the opening of Zuma New York in January 2015.

Sheikh was head-hunted in London to spearhead Zuma’s operations in the UAE and later given responsibility for Turkey — and judging by the quick rise to power he’s making now, the decision to do so was a sound one.

From a luxury hotel background, Sheikh has worked with some of London’s most iconic hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and Lanesborough, as well as Conrad and Le Méridien. Sheikh studied hotel management in Switzerland and completed his Bachelor’s degree in the US.

Sheikh is confident of his brand and the work he’s doing. He says: “My priority is to grow at a steady pace, without expanding too fast. It’s important to pick the right locations that will add brand value as well as profits to the bottom line.” He says he’s going to continue with operations to ensure the brand is the market leader in the cities it operates in. And you know what, we think he’s going to do it.

2. Sascha Triemer
Vice president of culinary, Atlantis, The Palm

Sascha Triemer is the vice president of culinary at Atlantis, The Palm, and is in charge of one of the biggest kitchen brigades in the region, with the highest number of food and beverage outlets. In five years, Triemer has been in charge of the growth of the property’s F&B outlets and watched them grow from 17 to 23 — with more in the pipeline in the coming year.

After accepting the role of VP, Triemer was responsible for the changeover of some of the senior members of the F&B team, including an executive sous chef who was promoted and transferred to one of Atlantis’ sister properties.

Finding, replacing, and training the new senior culinary management team was a feat he devoted three months to, and was successful. Evidence of this can be seen in the increase in the number of awards the culinary team has won over the past year (almost 40% increase in the number of medals), the reduction of turnover, as well as the implementation of several training programmes, including the Atlantis Culinary Academy.

He revamped the entire Asateer iftar buffet setup with a new, modern station, staying within the Arabian feel, which resulted in a 6% increase in covers from last year — an impressive 22,381 covers for iftar only.

Triemer also oversaw the smooth transition of Rostang to La Brasserie — from the hiring of the chef de cuisine to the development and implementation of the menu. In the last 12 months, Atlantis has received 82 culinary medals in competitions such as Gulfood’s Salon Culinaire, Time Out Dubai’s Young Chef of the Year award, and more.

Triemer is also a strong supporter of local farmers; he uses local organic produce in two of the hotel’s restaurants and works closely with the farmers on the ground to ensure availability.

Additionally, under his command, the ISO 22000 was implemented in less than 18 months. In 2014, the Dubai Municipality awarded Atlantis, The Palm an “A” grade, for providing the highest hygiene standards possible and a safe environment using the farm to fork approach.

He implemented the 12-week Atlantis Culinary Academy for the second year, where young chefs go through an apprentice programme with certification. It consists of classroom-style lectures, practical sessions, and supplier warehouse visits to understand products and their origins.

He says his proudest achievement in the last year is “being entrusted with the VP of culinary position and working together with a fantastic team of chefs, constantly under high pressure to achieve and deliver seemingly impossible high results”. When asked what his vision is, Triemer replies: “To be the only hotel in the region seen as a culinary paradise with more variety, better quality, better experience.”

Bite-sized facts:
Number of years in the F&B industry: 23
Number of years in the Middle East: 12
Size of his team: 450 chefs
Restaurants under his remit in the Middle East: 23
Nationality: German

3. Simon Lazarus
Vice president food & beverage, Hilton Worldwide EMEA

In April 2014, Simon Lazarus’ role was extended to include Europe as the group seeks to streamline its approach to F&B strategy across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Simon Lazarus joined Hilton Worldwide as an apprentice chef at Hilton Toronto in 1993, and quickly moved up the ranks, becoming an executive chef within seven years. He then took on various regional roles within the European F&B team, before making the move to the Middle East in 2008.

As vice president for food & beverage, Lazarus is responsible for devising and implementing F&B strategy for the company’s 353 hotels, as well as developing plans for the 216 hotels currently under development.

With more than 380 restaurants, and 429 bars in EMEA, the F&B division is one of the largest restaurant providers, serving guests in Hilton Worldwide’s restaurants, bars, with more than 5.8 million square metres of meeting space.

The group operates in-house concepts throughout the region, including Table 9 by Darren Velvick at Hilton Dubai Creek, Cave at Conrad Dubai, as well as third-party concepts including Trader Vic’s at Hilton Doha, Social by Heinz Beck at Waldorf Astoria Palm Dubai, Marco Pierre White Grill at Conrad Dubai, and Bice at Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort.

With more than 200 concepts under development in the Middle East, it’s a busy time for Lazarus, who also simultaneously oversees the 333 existing restaurants and bars in 51 hotels operating across multiple brands in the region.

The growing F&B portfolio also means he is seeking to fill several roles in the group. Explaining his strategy, Lazarus says: “As we continue to expand our regional operations and introduce unique F&B concepts, we will need to recruit quality culinary and service staff. With 333 F&B outlets in the Middle East, I personally place great importance on ensuring we employ people who can uphold and deliver the outstanding hospitality and unrivalled cuisine Hilton Worldwide hotels have become known for.”

In his role, Lazarus is also working on launching an F&B sustainability tool kit, with the objective of protecting endangered plants and animals by taking an informed approach to purchasing. The tool kit will also act as a go-to guide for all hotels to reduce food wastage across the region.

“We are working hard to promote a learning climate in our hotels, which is not only conducive to the future development of all F&B team members but also essential to achieving long-term, world-class status for Hilton Worldwide’s largest operational department,” Lazarus says.

Bite-sized facts:
Number of years in the F&B industry: 26
Size of team: 23,000
number of hotels under remit: 353 + 216 UNDER DEVELOPMENT
Number of years in the Middle East: 6
Nationality: Canadian/Jamaican

4. Christian Gradnitzer
Group culinary director, Jumeirah Group

It is no secret that the Jumeirah Group is working on its culinary department, now more than ever. Earlier this year, we reported on the group’s move to creating a food and beverage department independent of the hotel structure.

There have been challenges — none the least with the departure of both Jason Myers (who ranked number one on last year’s Caterer Middle East Power List) and Gert Kopera. With a new name, structure, and brand imminent, Christian Gradnitzer represents the old guard within the Jumeirah Group’s F&B team as its group culinary director.

With Jumeirah’s expansion, Gradnitzer is working on developing restaurants and bar concepts that establish the Middle East as a culinary game player on a global scale.

Currently responsible for new restaurant concepts for more than 20 Jumeirah hotels under development worldwide, as well as the development of restaurants in its existing hotels, Gradnitzer says: “I am passionate about raising the bar and establishing Jumeirah Group as the trendsetter when it comes to culinary concepts and creations.” The group is also developing a multitude of concepts for a third party over the next 12 months.

One of the new concepts that has just gone live is Perry & Blackwelder’s Original Smokehouse in Souk Madinat Jumeirah. With it, Gradnitzer asserts the importance of original concepts and says these new concepts “illustrate the group’s drive to innovate”.

In Q1 2015, Gradnitzer will lead the charge by launching a new Indian restaurant at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. He reveals: “Across our portfolio, we expect several renovations of existing restaurants, as well as the launch of new concepts that will follow the success of Alta Badia at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, which celebrates its first anniversary in November, and Tortuga Mexican Kitchen and Bar at Mina A’Salam.”

Gradnitzer has worked with Jumeirah Group for 14 years, first as executive sous chef of Burj Al Arab supervising 175 chefs, to his current role managing the culinary direction for 150 restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. He also oversees 16 outlets under Jumeirah Group’s home-grown brand, The Noodle House, as well as The Ivy and Rivington Grill restaurants in partnership with Caprice Holdings.

He is a regular speaker at high-profile F&B industry events, an active supporter of charity initiatives such as Nourish — Chefs United in the UAE, and works closely with Dubai Municipality food authorities in relation to analysing and establishing food safety regulations.

When asked what his key priority for 2015 is, Gradnitzer says: “It is time for the Middle East to be setting the standard.”

Bite-sized facts:
Restaurants under remit: 150
Size of team: 1500
Number of years in the F&B industry: 24
Number of years in the Middle East: 15
Nationality: Austrian

5. Markus Thesleff
Founder, Whissle Hospitality

As the co-founder of Whissle Hospitality, Markus Thesleff was one of the first few to launch independent home-grown brands in the market. His vision and achievements saw him winning the title of Restaurateur of the Year at the 2014 Caterer Middle East Awards.

Markus Thesleff founded Whissle with Ramzy Abdul-Majeed to champion home-grown concepts in the UAE.

Whissle is continuing to follow that dream when it comes to premium UAE-based F&B concepts — in line with Thesleff’s vision. This bucked the trend of international brands coming to the region, encouraged growth of entrepreneurship in the highly competitive market, and highlighted how Dubai-grown brands can compete on a global scale.

Innovation is at the heart of the company’s brand portfolio, with all the establishments conceived and created to answer the consumers’ desire for something different. In the space of five years, Thesleff has seen the launch of six successful independent outlets in the UAE.

In 2009, Whissle launched the award-winning Okku. In 2012, the company opened Riva on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah and Sophie’s Café.

Expanding its portfolio, Whissle launched Claw BBQ, Crabshack & Grill in 2013 in Souk Al Bahar. Cielo Sky Lounge opened at Dubai Creek Yacht Club in March 2014, followed by Casa de Tapas in the summer.

Thesleff reveals that Whissle currently has nine concepts under development — five building on existing brands, and four new ones that will be introduced in the market. Caterer Middle East has been told about plans for one of these, and it looks like a project worth waiting for.

Thesleff also supports local talent, and teams in each venue are encouraged to attend courses to hone their crafts. Team members have themselves gone on to win multiple industry awards as recognition for their talents.

Additionally, Thesleff regularly participates in discussions and debates for the industry, and has spoken at multiple Caterer Middle East conferences, and was also included on one of the event’s advisory panel.

With a strong background in the F&B industry and 19 years of experience, Thesleff began his career within the family business before pursuing his passion for creating lifestyle brands.

He found success with Pangaea, a private members lounge in New York, and in 2005 opened Aviva, and in 2007, followed it with Maya.

6. Johnny Tomazos
CEO, Food Fund International

The firm, under Tomazos’ command, has accomplished a lot over the last 12 months. Its biggest achievements have been the opening of two new concepts, Bentley Bistro & Bar in Abu Dhabi and Eat Greek Kouzina in Dubai, projects which have been conceived and developed right here in the UAE.

Tomazos reveals: “Since their launch, we are experiencing very positive growth potential, with the opportunity to develop these brands much further, both regionally and internationally. We are witnessing huge interest from landlords here and overseas who are keen to align with our innovative concepts, and work with us to roll them out globally.”

He says the company has seen a considerably higher turnover than its competitors, achieving its strongest level of profit to date.

The new brands have received positive feedback from consumers and landlords alike, the latter of whom, Tomazos says, are buying into the idea of home-grown brands much more than they used to. Additionally, potential business partners in Bahrain and London have reached out to discuss expansion opportunities.

He reveals: “Our priority for 2015 is to continue to grow our number of stores regionally, whilst also growing our pool of talent. We hope to develop a further eight to 10 new boutique brands across the UAE. Not only that, we want to expand abroad, with Eat Greek, a concept we know will be successful, already looking set to make a move to both London and Bahrain.”

The brands he runs, including The Meat Co, Tribes, Eat Greek, and Bentley Bistro & Bar, span across the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain at present. Food Fund International is looking to develop further concepts, including an Italian, a casual rotisserie, an all-day dining, and a seafood joint — further details were not made available.

Tomazos earned a business degree at the University of Johannesburg and studied the operations of the company’s restaurants by working as a washer-up, waiter, assistant chef, and manager in Johannesburg. Following the success of The Meat Co’s arrival in the UK — in Shepherd’s Bush, west London — Tomazos has secured prime sites for the brand in the heart of the capital city.

“We are going forward into a momentous new era of company development,” Tomazos concludes. “It has brought considerable changes in management and staffing to serve our growth strategy, and getting the right people into the right positions to make it happen.”

7. Samer Simreen
General manager commercial, Royal Catering

While Samer Simreen arguably handles one of the larger mass catering firms in the region with 2000 team members, in the last year he has steered the company towards venturing into new areas, including developing F&B outlets.

Royal Catering, in addition to its mass catering responsibilites, successfully launched its first two restaurants in October 2013: the fully licensed Rozanah (now in Yas Marina and Al Ruwais Mall, Abu Dhabi) and Café D’Alsace (in Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi).

While not revealing much yet about his third concept, a brand called Catch is in the pipeline for the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Simreen says: “We have developed the restaurant segment in the company over the past year, something that we see as a great achievement.”

He adds: “Over the last year we have fully established our first two restaurants, Rozanah and Café D’Alsace, both of which opened in October 2013. We have managed to strongly establish them in the fully licensed restaurant sector and have plans to develop more restaurants in the near future.”

Indeed, Simreen has revealed that in the next year, his goal is to further develop and establish the restaurant and retail segments of the company.

Since joining Royal Catering five years ago, Simreen has moved up from operations manager to his role today, developed its multiple divisions and segments, and moved from 300 employees to 2000.

In his role he is responsible for the commercial division of the company that manages all events and catering projects. Royal Catering works on events in many different industries, such as sports, music, weddings and more. It became the official caterer for oil and gas and hospitality companies in the region, members of the royal family, Flash Entertainment and the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Simreen graduated from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai with a degree in International Hospitality Management and studied further at the Écôle Hotelière De Lausanne in Switzerland.

Bite-sized facts:
concepts under remit: 2 (plus one mass catering wing)
Size of team: 2000
Number of years in the F&B Industry: 9
Number of years in the Middle East: 7
Nationality: German

8. Harald Oberender
Director of kitchens, Dubai World Trade Centre

The catering and hospitality department runs several concepts, including: Seven Sands, which offers contemporary Emirati cuisine; Hup, a modern brasserie lounge concept; Loop, a grab-and-go concept; and, The Club at 33, a fine dining concept, in addition to DWTC’s catering operation.

The catering team has served several high-profile events in the UAE, including the Dubai Airshow at the Maktoum International Airport, with more than 120 VIP chalets.

Oberender manages a professional team of 192, and heads project planning for new facilities, including the Dubai Expo 2020 developments, expansion of restaurants, and creation of food concepts and menus for new outlets.

Under Oberender’s leadership, DWTC has retained its market leader position as a venue of choice for weddings within the UAE, with 22 royal weddings per year that cater to approximately 4000 covers each, and over 100 weddings per year with 800 covers each.

Oberender is also looking to expand the Seven Sands brand with five outlets, while managing the expansion of the trade centre complex in January 2016.

In a bid to nurture talent, Oberender has signed up to support ICCA’s culinary scholarship programme as a guest
lecturer, and hopes to educate more Emirati chefs.

Having travelled and worked extensively in countries such as Germany, South Africa, UK, Bermuda, Ethiopia and the US, Oberender brings his expertise in Italian, French, American, Mexican, and African cuisines to DWTC.
Previously, Oberender worked at Hilton Worldwide, where he was in charge of the full kitchen and service management; covering menu and concept development, purchasing processes, store keeping controls and financial audits.

Bite-sized facts:
Number of years in the F&B industry: 34
Number of years in the Middle East: 23
Size of team: 192
Nationality: German

9. Uwe Micheel
Director of kitchens, Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek; president, Emirates Culinary Guild

As director of kitchens at Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek, Uwe Micheel oversees a team of 150, and is in charge of 14 F&B outlets, as well as room service, outdoor catering, and banqueting.

Micheel is also the president of the Emirates Culinary Guild (ECG) — a post he has been voted into, unopposed, for the past 15 years. The ECG is a member of the 105-nation-strong World Association of Chefs’ Societies.

The ECG encourages junior chefs through training and competitions — such as Salon Culinaire — and participating in various events such as SIAL Abu Dhabi, Dubai World Hospitality Championship, and the Food Carnival at Dubai Festival City.

Micheel has also played an important role in founding the UAE’s national culinary team and organising City & Guild’s bursaries for disadvantaged young chefs.

Always keen to support younger chefs and nurture their talent, he has been instrumental in supporting ICCA Dubai’s latest initiative, which offers AED one million (US $ 272,242) in scholarships to deserving chefs who cannot afford professional training.

Sustainability is another cause close to his heart, and Micheel was the first executive to push for the recognition of the UAE sustainable fish programme, a task with which he still labours despite the many setbacks in trying to educate people on the importance of conservation of fish stocks. This is something Caterer Middle East supports as well, and is proud to see Micheel champion it.

In 2015, Micheel will be busy working on opening Aseelah, the new Emirati restaurant at the hotel, while also managing the renovation of other outlets, the hotel’s new pool and shisha area, as well as new meeting facilities.

He says his aim is to keep renovating and upgrading his product while staying true to the heritage of his hotel and the country he is in.

The German national began his career as a restaurant chef in Cellar Hof boutique hotel in Germany. After a year of working at hotel Schwarzer Bock, Micheel served in the army service for two years as a chef in the officer restaurant.

He joined InterContinental Hotels Group in 1981 in Germany, before moving to the UK as chef de partie saucier in Hyde Park London. He then moved to Bahrain, before relocating to Korea. He moved to Dubai in 1993 as director of kitchens at Radisson Blu.

Bite-sized facts:
Restaurants under remit: 14
Size of team: 150
Number of years in the F&B industry: 39
Number of years in the Middle East: 25
Nationality: German

10. Andrew Day
Group Chief Executive Officer — Emirates Leisure Retail (ELR) and Maritime & Mercantile International (MMI)

ELR and MMI have both seen a lot happening in 2014; they have 18 concepts operating in the Middle East with Costa Coffee, Al Areesh Club, Après, BidiBondi, Beach House Cabana, Barca Club, Giraffe, Giraffe Stop, Heineken Lounge, Hey Pesto, Jack’s Bar and Grill, Left Bank, Le Lounge — Moet &Chandon, Premier Inn — The Retreat, Premier Inn — Bedouinns Bistro, Premier Inn — Lounge One, Premier Inn — Nuevo, and The Noodle House.

While ELR operates more than 200 outlets across the Middle East and Australia, MMI owns and operates 54 outlets across the Gulf, Africa and South East Asia.

Travel retail is a key strategic focus — and the company now has more than 55 outlets across 10 domestic and international airports.

Under Day’s command, ELR and MMI are building on the success of their partnership with Dubai Airports with six new outlets at Concourse D. Venues on offer include a casual dining restaurant by celeb chef Wolfgang Puck, Wolfgang Puck Kitchen; family-friendly UK restaurant Giraffe; Southeast Asian restaurant The Noodle House; Costa Coffee; and a new sports bar concept designed exclusively for Concourse D. The fine wine and luxury spirits concept, Le Clos, will also open its sixth outlet at Dubai International.

Day says: “The success to date of our F&B offering at Concourse A has allowed us to deliver the world-class brands we will be offering at Concourse D, including the likes of Wolfgang Puck, who recently spent time with two of our chefs to create this menu, which will be a first at the airport and further testament to the efforts of our staff in delivering a world-class experience.”

He continues: “We are set to announce some more exciting news in the coming weeks and months, both building on our existing brands’ presence outside of the airport as well as launching an iconic new concept in the UAE.”

Bite-sized facts:
Size of team: 2000+
Number of years in the F&B industry: 30
Number of years in the Middle East: 7
Nationality: British

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