Why Dubai-based restaurateur Joey Ghazal is taking a homegrown concept to London
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Why Dubai-based restaurateur Joey Ghazal is taking a homegrown concept to London

Why Dubai-based restaurateur Joey Ghazal is taking a homegrown concept to London

The Maine Mayfair located at 20 Hanover Square will open this fall

Joey Ghazal

You can argue that it was 20 years in the making. I started my career as a waiter in London 20 years ago, and it’s been something that’s been on my mind a very long time,” says Joey Ghazal, founder and managing partner of The Maine New England Brasserie Co., of the recently announced first international outpost of the brand that will open in London’s Mayfair this fall.

The Maine Mayfair, located at 20 Hanover Square, has picked what many would consider as being among the most fiercely competitive patches of real estate when it comes to fine dining. There’s Japanese restaurant Sexy Fish (Rita Ora sang at its launch party), the decadent Park Chinois (it’s hard to escape the 24-page wine list) and also Davies and Brook by chef Daniel Humm at Claridge’s (Humm’s Eleven Madison Park in New York City was voted the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017), all within a couple of hundred metres of each other.

But Ghazal isn’t unduly perturbed by the neighbourhood competition. Like with any great restaurant, location is everything – moreover in Mayfair. Luckily, The Maine’s landed a prime spot. “It’s a homestead in Hanover Square from 1720. It is the only surviving Grade II-listed Georgian building in the entire area, much of which was dug up for air raid shelters in the Second World War.

“We won the location in stiff competition with many very seasoned local operators in London,” says Ghazal of the former homestead of the Duke of Montrose. It is the first time that the building is being purposed as a dining destination.

20 Hanover Square is part of a 1.3 acre mixed-use development by Great Portland Estates and is a short walk from Berkley Square and the Elizabeth line Crossrail station. The Maine Mayfair is divided across three levels with five rooms, and will have a seating capacity of 350. “We have a 100-foot terrace that is connected to New Bond Street. We have a drawing room, which will be sort of an aristocratic lounge. We have a large bar and brasserie that will have a nightlife and entertainment component to it. Our goal is to create a destination that would surprise and delight people who visit many times and not have the same experience twice.”

The maine Mayfair London
20 Hanover Square is part of a 1.3 acre mixed-use development by Great Portland Estates

It’s been a journey for the Dubai homegrown concept to scale from a garage in JBR that opened in 2015, to where it is today. Ghazal, who was born in Montreal and later worked in Canada and the UK, eventually moved to permanently settle in Dubai in 2013. It’s a city where his family has been present since 1975, and one that he knew intimately. He says that at the time he moved here, Dubai had a very noisy and competitive restaurant landscape, but yet there was a gaping space within it.

“There was no brand that was really operating at the affordable luxury middle category. There was no multi-unit, multi-location brasserie offering in the city. As a family, we used to vacation on the east coast of Maine in the US. My idea was to create kind of a brasserie with a New England inspiration to it as a homage to my childhood,” says Ghazal.

That concept led to the launch of The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill in JBR, followed by another The Maine Street Eatery in Studio City, a taco truck, and most recently the glitzy The Maine Land Brasserie on the ground floor of The Opus at Business Bay. “[We are] the only multi-unit licensed restaurant company in the city. We’ve become the champions for the affordable luxury brasserie market.”
He says that the Dubai operations have over 150 staff. “We have grown it from a garage restaurant to a company that’s now worth over Dhs100m. Over the years, we have invested over Dhs20m in all three restaurants,” explains Ghazal.

But the latest offering in London will significantly up the stakes for the company. “The project in London costs more than the three restaurants here combined. And that one restaurant itself has 150 staff. It is also 11,000 square feet – take all of our restaurants in Dubai and they would not reach 11,000 square feet together.”

The decision to enter London amid the pandemic wasn’t one that was taken lightly. Ghazal explains that the team did a year-long study on London with focus groups and undertook extensive research into the various players in the market to answer two questions: ‘Does London need another restaurant?’ and ‘Does London need The Maine?’. “On both counts, the answer was yes. We’re fresher, more contemporary and have a lifestyle approach to the brasserie space. We are definitely more affordable luxury, aspirational and accessible than most of our peers.

“From the time we saw the location in [London] in October, to the time that we’re opening, is under a year. London has come out of a very aggressive lockdown over the past few months. We believe that it is ready for a new concept, and particularly now. There is so much pent-up demand.”

Beyond the negative economic impact on the hospitality sector, the Covid-19 pandemic has also led to positive structural changes within the restaurant company. He points to the example of an online training academy which the company now uses to onboard new staff. “The biggest challenge in any business is communicating your DNA to your people, and so we’ve digitised our training programme on something called the Maine Academy. We are able to do this through a software called Done by Mark Dickinson,” says Ghazal, while adding that it allows business owners to see a dashboard that tracks and measures the development of each one of their employees and also decentralises responsibility and accountability from the hands of central management to the team. “We were able to not only retain all of our people [during the pandemic], but were actually able to open up the third restaurant with the staff that we had at the two [restaurants].”

As a restaurateur who has spent two decades in the industry, Ghazal is also keen to pay it forward. “I created my company, Fighterbrands, which is a concept, design and development company that helps young entrepreneurs and advises them through taking what’s in their mind from blueprint to bricks. It’s one of the very few businesses that is both left brain and right brain simultaneously. You have to be a businessman negotiating leases, shareholders agreements, doing the financials, and at the same time you have to be creative and do the marketing, plate presentations and design the uniforms.”

As a result of the pandemic, Ghazal says that The Maine also started working more closely with local food producers. At the Dubai branches, 80 per cent of the vegetables on the menu are now sourced from among the approximately 4,000 farms in the UAE, and it is a model that will be carried on to London as well. “In London, we have the opportunity to work with local suppliers and local farms, we are able to play with ingredients that we are not able to play with here [in Dubai], and create much more of a local story over there,” says Ghazal.

A CSR project that Ghazal will soon be launching is the Dubai Oyster Project that will take discarded oyster shells from The Maine’s three restaurants in the emirate, and use them to regenerate coastal reef ecosystems. “We actually have over 50,000 discarded oyster shells from our restaurants per month. We’re working with the Emirates Wildlife Association to get these shells back into the water, because each shell gets regenerated into an oyster, and every oyster filters about five gallons of water a day.”

While The Maine Mayfair is on the immediate horizon for the Dubai-headquartered company, Ghazal says that plans are already afoot to expand even further. “We’re working hard on a seaside version of The Maine, perhaps for Mykonos or the south of France. We’re also looking at places like Miami, Singapore – there’s a lot of cities that are looking for a concept like ours.

“The Maine as a concept has already proven itself in terms of its versatility and viability. We’re not very top-heavy, and we can make moves that other bigger companies can’t,” notes Ghazal. And at the moment, it is making the right moves.

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