Global Restaurant Investment Forum

Part of FHS Event Series | Riyadh

Part of FHS Event Series | Riyadh

GRIF Content Library


GRIF hosts the region’s leading hospitality personalities in Dubai

Published 29 October 2019

A who’s who of the region’s hospitality and F&B leaders gathered at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management on October 15th, for the GRIF Society Dubai Briefing: a fascinating series of panel discussions, industry insight sessions and seminars on the latest market trends.

Dubai, UAE (October 2019): When it comes to attracting the biggest names in the Middle East’s hospitality industry, the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) always delivers. It’s no surprise, then, that the GRIF Society Dubai Briefing, which was held at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, followed by lunch and a networking reception hosted by Gates Hospitality at Folly by Nick & Scott, on October 15th, proved to be yet another huge success.

Following welcome remarks from Jennifer Pettinger-Haines (Managing Director Middle East of Bench Events and Co-Founder of GRIF), Naim Maadad (Chief Executive of Gates Hospitality) gave an enlightening introduction, in which he spoke about the need for a united approach from F&B operators. He explained that businesses should work together for the good of the industry, without sacrificing their competitiveness.

Setting the Scene

The GRIF Society Dubai Briefing officially kicked off with an insightful conversation between Stefan Breg (Group Strategy Director of Keane) and Richard Thompson (Editorial Director at MEED), during which they examined how GCC business dynamics are evolving. They analysed key geo-political and macro-economic trends to watch out for in the region. The comprehensive discussion touched on important topics, including the increasing competition among operators chasing increasingly tight margins, as well as the shift towards a focus on investment opportunities in China and India. They also looked at the need for businesses to have ‘China-ready’ strategies, and the necessity for a long-term post-Expo 2020 plan.

Dubai’s Evolving Restaurant Landscape

Next, Duncan Fraser-Smith (Vice President – Food & Beverage with The First Group) chaired a panel discussion with Christian Abell (Vice President – Food & Beverage MEA with Marriott International), Tom Arnel (Co-Founder & Managing Director of Bull & Roo Hospitality & Investments) and Samantha Wood (Publisher, Editor & Consultant of FooDiva). The group spoke at length about how F&B operators, from independents to hotel outlets, should work together, learn from each other and position Dubai as a leading dining destination on the global restaurant scene. Topics such as the need for restaurateurs to think independently and demonstrate more savviness in terms of location and pricing, along with the importance of sourcing quality local produce, were to the fore of the conversation.

Vertical Farming After Darren Tse (Commercial Director – Concessions at Expo 2020 Dubai) updated GRIF attendees on the exciting progress being made at the Expo 2020 site, Richard Thompson (Editorial Director at MEED) returned to curate a discussion on vertical farming, with Kieran Dowd (Vice President of Sourcing Solutions at Emirates Flight Catering & General Manager at Emirates Crop One) and Ming Zhu (Regional Development Manager at Crop One). GRIF attendees were given a fascinating insight into Emirates Airlines’ $40 million (AED 147m) joint-venture with Crop One to build the world’s largest vertical farm, right here in Dubai.


Dan Clayton (Director of PPS Addison Hospitality) was next up with a presentation on how businesses can reconnect with a disrupted audience in a third-party world.

Helen El Mettouri (Regional Director of Keane) later welcomed students from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management on stage to explain what they expect from their future employers and to speak about what Generation Z consumers look for from F&B operators.

Expansion Opportunities in KSA

Stefan Breg (Group Strategy Director of Keane) lead a conversation with Mert Askin (President of Food & Beverage at Azadea Group), Ryan Hattingh (Partner at Atelier EPJ) and Prince Waleed Al-Saud (Founder & President of Qoot). The speakers took a close look at the Saudi Arabia’s rapid market growth, detailing their own experiences of operating there. The discussion provided intriguing insights into Saudi Arabia’s growing tourism and restaurant industries, ‘Vision 2030’, and the ongoing Saudization scheme. These important topics and more will be explored in full next year at the GRIF Society KSA Briefing, on January 21st in Riyadh.

Beyond the Restaurant

GRIF’s panel discussions were rounded off with a group conversation featuring Courtney Brandt (Founder of A to Za'atar), Ian Ohan (Founder & CEO of KRUSH Brands), Reif Othman (Chef & Founder of REIF Kushiyaki), and Ron Simpson (Founder of The Avocado Show), which focused on corporate transparency and consumer expectations for companies to act in the interests of the greater good. The panel gave their expert opinions on the significance of staying true and authentic as business owners, while also talking about how sustainability can be a sustainable business model, and the importance of not getting caught up in headline-based hysteria, by engaging with factual reports, data and statistics instead.

Big Announcement from KRUSH Brands

Ian Ohan, Founder & CEO of KRUSH Brands, chose GRIF as the ideal platform to unveil the big news that KRUSH Brands has acquired the UAE food concept, the Salad Jar. The United Arab Emirates company already owns, operates and franchises healthier and convenient food brands such as Freedom Pizza, Wildflower Poke & More, Coco Yogo Vegan Kitchen and Big Dwarf Food Technology. The acquisition is part of KRUSH Brands’ multi-brand, single-platform strategy – healthier brands you love, Powered by Freedom, KRUSH Brands’ proprietary technology, operating, franchising and delivery platform.

Lunch and Networking Reception at Folly by Nick & Scott

No GRIF event would be complete without an amazing dining experience to top it off. Thankfully, Gates Hospitality was on hand to host the GRIF Society participants for a fantastic lunch and networking reception at Folly by Nick & Scott in Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

After toasting another successful GRIF event in 2019 ahead of GRIF 2020 in Amsterdam, Naim Maadad, Chief Executive of Gates Hospitality, commented, “We’re closing yet another successful GRIF briefing and it’s a privilege to be able to host everyone at Folly by Nick & Scott. We’ve been involved with GRIF since its inception and it’s inspiring to see it grow and develop year-on-year, so we’re very much looking forward to the 2020 edition.”