Here’s what it’s like to open a new restaurant in Dubai during a pandemic

It’s no secret we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants in Dubai.

Now one popular fine-dining spot based in Abu Dhabi has just added the mix as it has now opened in Dubai.

99 Sushi opened its doors in Downtown Dubai at the beginning of September and it’s already been a huge hit with sushi lovers and foodies alike.

With breathtaking views of the Burj Khalifa and the cooler weather, it makes for the perfect spot to meet friends, enjoy a meal for date night or even a good Friday brunch spot.

In celebration of International Chef’s Day which was earlier this week, sat down with 99 Sushi’s Executive Chef Rubén Guerrero Simón to discuss the opening of its new Dubai home, what it’s been like opening a new restaurant during a pandemic and how he believes the F&B space in the UAE and GCC differs from the rest of the world.

99 Sushi Bar has been incredibly popular in Abu Dhabi; do you expect the same in Dubai?

The 99 Sushi Bar concept is simple – we offer a real fine dining experience using only the finest, and highest quality opponents, from ingredients to service.

So far the response for Dubai has been great we have been hitting full capacity with the numbers that are allowed following government restrictions and for us in the kitchen, a busy restaurant is a happy restaurant.

What has it been like opening a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic?

Of course, opening in the midst of a global pandemic has brought its own set of unique challenges. The key to success is always perseverance, every time we have a setback we get up and we go again.

On a personal level, it was the first restaurant opening of my career – and it was in a pandemic. I quickly learnt that taking extra care of the product was crucial, creating a perfect experience for guests to ensure they return.

How was 99 Sushi Abu Dhabi affected during lockdown? How did you adapt?

As a business, the brand felt the effects of the lockdown establish its way across the whole Emirate. 99 Sushi Bar continue to survive throughout lockdown and beyond by being innovative thinkers and industry leaders.

For the first time ever, the brand introduced fine dining delivery of its food and gave customers the chance to experience their food the same way they do in venue with the launch of 99 Sushi Bar Delivery.

The brand also signed deals with Deliveroo, and Totok, enabling customers to order via Totok messenger and even pay via Payby, a cashless e-payment. Another regional first for fine dining delivery was the launch of the 99 Sushi Bar app enabling customers to do a range of things, such as make future reservations, see all our up to date menus with photos, and order directly to the Abu Dhabi restaurant.

How does the food and beverage industry here differ from other places around the world?

Dubai and the GCC as a whole, has one of the most vibrant F&B scenes in the world. As an industry we look to stay ahead of the curve and set trends, it is a unique and different market.

As chefs, we need to be able to make a variety of guests happy, from visitors, residents and locals. This can have its challenges but also its opportunities for all cultures to try our dishes and experience 99 Sushi Bar.

This International Chef’s Day, what advice would you give to budding young chefs?

Keep pushing no matter what, life is a difficult road always. But, at the end of the day, if you can feel that the guests have left happy and have enjoyed their night, it is one of the best feelings in the industry.

What are the hurdles you’ve experienced during your career as a chef?

One the biggest hurdles that I have experienced as a chef is being away from my family. Although no matter where my career takes me around the world, they continue to be the biggest support.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what are the milestones?

On the other hand, the best part of being a chef is being given the opportunity to travel, learn about different cultures, continue to learn about different types of cuisine, and to carry on growing as a chef and as a person.

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