Not many people have heard of Orange Hospitality, despite the large number of awards its one concept in Dubai, Il Borro, has won. It’s the way founder Omar Saideh has liked it up until now, working discretely with his team to keep Il Borro at the top of its game while planning his next move.
That next move is upon us now, and Saideh believes it’s time to announce Orange Hospitality to the world.
The boutique operator is set to open its second concept, Alici, an Italian seafood restaurant with its location on the new Bluewaters Island, but its heart and soul on Italy’s Amalfi coast.
For Saideh it’s a second opportunity to highlight what sets Orange Hospitality apart from the rest of the industry.
“We focus on developing restaurants that revolve around the customer experience and giving the market something it has never seen before,” he tells us.
“We look at brands for their true context. We try to look at things that make it different. Il Borro for example has its own wines, its own olive oil, its own identity, and we try to capture that unique selling point.”
Orange Hospitality was created to give the consumer something exceptional, Saideh says, and that means more than just delivering a good meal.
“It’s not enough now to walk inside a restaurant and open a menu and order off it. You have to experience it from the moment you walk in until the minute you leave,” he says.
To ensure that, building the right team who could take care of customers was of vital importance.
Despite the many accolades given to Il Borro in its two years, Saideh humbly says, “I believe awards don’t define you as a brand. Your team, their efforts, their constant strive to improve is what makes you successful and becomes a testament of your model.
“The Orange Hospitality team is a bunch of very passionate people who have local expertise and also international exposure. When we hire people we don’t hire them because they know how to serve a plate or serve a glass of water. We hire people because of who they know in the market, who will recognise them when they enter our restaurants. We believe you really need to give that personal touch. They know what you like, what you don’t like. These small details really make a difference to the customer experience.”
Being available and approachable to his employees is key to Saideh, and Orange Hospitality has an open door policy where “every opinion matters”.
Saideh expands: “We operate as one unit. I myself am heading it but by no means am I an owner, I’m an employee like everyone else. I like to keep that spirit of teambuilding so that all of us, collectively as one unit, can achieve greater heights.”
It goes against the grain of the traditionally corporate hospitality industry, which Saideh says is “too structured”.
Orange Hospitality, he says, is “deconstructed but formal in a sense”.
“We make decisions over lunch, we make decisions by going to places and seeing different restaurants in the market. This is the style of Orange Hospitality. It’s not a company where you have to fill out 20 forms to get something approved and this is what’s missing. You have to be super quick because the market is very quick. We try to stay innovative which is what I believe will make Orange Hospitality a strong contender in the hospitality scene.”
The next innovation for Orange Hospitality is Alici. Located on the newly opened Bluewaters Island, it will be one of the first concepts to be open to the public from January 2019 and sits walking distance from what will be the world’s biggest ferris wheel. Saideh says as soon as they visited the site, it was obvious what it had to be.
“You can literally smell the salt of the sea when you are sitting so when we came and saw the space we thought this can only be a seafood restaurant.”
Already operating an Italian restaurant, Saideh was naturally drawn to the Amalfi coast and believes “the south of Italy hasn’t been given enough attention from the world in general” in comparison to other Mediterranean cuisines. So, he says, “we put a magnifying glass on the south of Italy and Alici was born. I feel that for the first time Dubai is going to get a concept that fits the location perfectly”.
The details matter to Saideh and everything about Alici is steeped in south Italian heritage. As he explains, Orange Hospitality is “in the field of bespoke and tailor made concept creations to ensure that we deliver something that is truly authentic and very recognisable from when you walk in”. As such the team travelled to the south of Italy for ten days to research everything they could to bring a concept authentically to life from scratch.
From the name, which is a slang term from the region for anchovies, to the vast amount of work which went in to finding local Italian collaborators to help design everything from the tiles to the tableware, the Amalfi coast shines through in Alici.
That includes the methods of cooking the fish also, with Saideh consistently unimpressed with what he has found in Dubai up until now.
“I’ve been here for 24 years and when it comes to fresh seafood you are very limited with options. You either have somewhere that is over seasoned or somewhere it is overly casual. We wanted to bring a seafood experience that is truly representing the south of Italy way of cooking which is simple and natural,” he says.
That also means no frozen seafood. “Our menus always revolve around what’s available fresh currently in our kitchen. We invested a lot in a big tank in our back of house area which hosts all of our live seafood to ensure you get your seafood live five minutes ago on your plate. Alici as a brand and us as a group stand against frozen seafood. Whatever product we bring to your table needs to be of the highest quality, and of course we try not to pinch your pocket too much, so you leave with a smile,” Saideh laughs.
But Saideh does admit that they won’t be trying to make Alici 100% authentic to the south of Italy and that adaptations will have to be made.
He says: “It’s a concept that is authentic in its context and the way we are delivering it but that does not mean we need to strictly abide 100% by everything we took from the south. We also look at the local market and Dubai as a whole and understand how we can take everything we learned from our 10-day trip to the coast and put that into a beautiful model that fits the market.
“It will be a very different approach to seafood in Dubai. Very authentic to the south but it will be easily understood by the local market and we feel this is key to any restaurant’s success. You can’t forget you are serving people who live here, who come as tourists — there are 52 different nationalities in Dubai, all these different tastes, cultures, backgrounds, you have to cater for all of that and give people what they like.”
That’s what makes Dubai a unique market and one that has suffered under the weight of many restaurants opening and closing in recent years. But Saideh believes that things are looking up.
“The market is changing,” he tells us. “Landlords used to have a waiting list of people who wanted to open but nowadays it’s not only who can pay the highest rent, it’s who can deliver a successful concept. The market is becoming less saturated with tonnes of restaurants which open for the sake of opening and now the market is more focused on quality operators that can sustain in this market condition.
“This is where I see Orange Hospitality filling a gap. It fills the gap of going that extra mile, not opening a restaurant because you want to make money. Money is a great factor, it’s a beautiful result, but it’s not the primary focus. You have to be successful first — get a level of success and money is a by-product of that and will come naturally.
“We are not in it because we want our portfolio to have 15 restaurants. We are happy to have one restaurant, we are happy that we are going to have a second in a month’s time. We feel that if they are the best in what they are doing that is a great accomplishment.”
With a number of awards, including our sister magazine Time Out’s Restaurant of the Year 2018 under its belt, Il Borro is certainly among the best at what it does. Which is why Orange Hospitality has taken the first steps to take it to the UK.
“We have to say that London is calling and we are answering,” Saideh tells us. “We’re going to be there very soon. We are proud to see this beautiful brand expand outside of Tuscany, we saw that in Dubai it’s earned its accolades, so now it’s time to bring it abroad. So London is currently secured. We are potentially going to take our lease in 2019 and hopefully we will be welcoming you to London in the first quarter of 2020.”
So why London? “We feel that with London and Dubai the only thing missing between them is a bridge.
Saideh is not stopping there, however, and says that India, Asia, and North America are all of interest to the Il Borro brand, but he will do so carefully. “We are trying to ensure that wherever we place our concepts they are well thought of, not just putting it there because you want to put it there. We are not hungry or desperate to push and explode — we feel you lose a little bit of its personal touch, you lose a bit of its boutique nature, and we want to keep that.”
But if Il Borro’s international expansion is a success could Alici follow in its footsteps?
“Absolutely. Alici is not a concept that I want to limit. It has a beautiful story, it has a lot of nice collaborations, and with the opening in January the public will see the amount of effort and time, and the countless opinions and decisions that we had to take. Everything has been sincerely thought of and you will see that when you walk in. You will feel the attention to detail. I wouldn’t want to put all that to waste by saying Alici will be a Dubai restaurant only. I feel it has tremendous potential to grow exponentially and be a brand that can be as serious contender globally when it comes to seafood from the south of Italy.”
As Orange Hospitality aim to reach for the top with both Il Borro and Alici, Saideh doesn’t believe it means it has to sacrifice its values. “We are the company that is friends with everyone, even the competing operators. We would like to see the hospitality industry in Dubai reach a certain level.
“We want to be the company that welcomes our people, takes care of our people, and makes sure that each individual that joins us is given a career development plan. I feel it’s a beautiful gap in the market Orange Hospitality will be filling and I can’t wait to share all these beautiful experiences with the people that will come on our team. We will hopefully become an innovator in this market, because it definitely needs it.”
Keep it green
As one of the key issues facing the industry, Saideh is not complacent about sustainability.
“It’s a big question worldwide,” he says. “Everybody now is focused on how to recycle, how to look at sustainability models to avoid food wastage, how to ensure your concept is efficient and optimum.
“With Il Borro we manage to do that because nothing that comes into the kitchen gets wasted. It’s something that also follows with organic sourcing of ingredients. You might add 10 or 20% on the ingredient but you get a much better product and people taste it. People know when it comes to things which have been processed and things which are natural.”
Saideh confirms Alici will follow the same model and will always look for options that make environmental sense. “We are always looking at the sustainability factor. How can we support local farmers? How can we reach out to local fisherman and how can we make their business profitable through our volume? Alici is in Dubai today, tomorrow it’s London. The next day it’s around the world and that vision can hopefully make an impact one day.”
What adds to the authenticity of Alici are the collaborations with artists from the Amalfi coast. In Raito they found Lucio Liguori, known locally as ‘the anchovy man’, an artisan pottery and ceramic maker. The team travelled to meet him and he collaborated exclusively to create potteries for Alici.
All the olive oil used in the restaurant is from a small village in Calabria where they are working with a local oil maker.
For Saideh it’s important to identify and work with the genuine article. He says: “We always look for these key names which add more substance to the concept, and we believe that Alici is a celebration of people and places – not only a concept that revolves around a standard menu that you read and order from.”
Orange Hospitality is far from finished with the launch of Alici, so we ask Saideh if he’ll be bringing other concepts to Dubai.
“Absolutely. I believe there are a lot of concepts that we can create or that we can bring from abroad into the market. People say the market it too competitive, it’s too saturated. I believe the market is missing quality. It’s missing attention to detail, it’s missing the extra mile. It’s hugely missing it.
“There’s a very small circle of people who dine in Dubai and they go to certain places in the market. We are very fortunate that we are one of these places, and looking at a market like Dubai with thousands of restaurants, to be having very few of them actually make noise and stand out is quite alarming.
“The market of refined dining is where we specialise in. In that niche we don’t feel the market is saturated, so we feel we can get concepts that fill that and add value to the landlord’s location.”
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