Qatar has one of the fastest growing economies in the Gulf and many of its most innovative enterprises are based in the Business District.
And with around 1.5 million soccer fans coming to Qatar in November for the World Cup, there are plenty of savvy businesses keen to show foreign visitors what the country has to offer.
A culinary experience for the whole family
How many times have we all found ourselves in a shopping mall trying to choose a place to eat? Well, now there’s an app for that.
West Bay’s Tornado Tower houses a virtual food hall where you can browse multiple restaurant menus and pay in one transaction.
It’s called AND Experience and it’s not your average lunch spot – it’s more like ten restaurants in one.
Ali Nasser Al-Saadi is its creator.
“A virtual hybrid food hall is basically where we operate different brands under one roof, where a customer can come in and order from different kitchens in the same transaction,” he explains.
Think of a food court. Mom wants pizza, dad wants a salad and the kids want pasta. The difference is that all brands here at AND Experience are owned by Ali Nasser Al-Saadi.
The adventure began in 2015 with mini pancakes in The Pearl area, a family-friendly residential neighborhood that is built on artificial islands north of Doha.
Al-Saadi said it took about a month to catch on, but when it did, it wasn’t long before he was making 2,000 mini pancakes every 10 minutes.
“It was something very new in Doha,” he recalls. “Having a concept from Qatar, especially running the business and being there on the ground. So, I was making pancakes and being the cashier and everything. And it evolved.”
This success led him to open AND cafe. Then the pandemic hit. Locked into a five-year lease, Al-Saadi needed a plan. That’s when he got the idea to turn his cafe into a central kitchen. AND Café has literally transformed into a new dining experience or “AND experience”.
“So we’re getting you breakfast,” Al-Saadi says as he gives us a tour. “We have your coffee, your pasta, your sliders, your wings and also empowering other people – business people where we have West African cuisine. So, we’ve taken brands that people want to open and we’re helping them grow those brands by providing a location, a kitchen, a chef and the right tools to grow their business.”
In most kitchens, a chef must master a menu. But here, there are ten different menus for the team to prepare – from salads and burgers to Italian and Senegalese cuisine.
Food bloggers put AND experience to the test
Dionne Lobo and Ian Marks started their food blog five years ago. The husband and wife regularly visit new restaurants in Doha and put them to the test.
“When I came to Doha, social media wasn’t such a big thing,” says Dionne. “Over a period of time, and across the globe, people respond more to food bloggers because they’re more personable and you can relate to them, rather than a critic.”
So we invited Dionne and Ian to try the AND experience. Their verdict:
“You can’t go wrong with butter chicken,” says Ian. “The butter chicken was amazing.”
“The potatoes were nice,” says Dionne. “Very different, not your usual potatoes.”
“They were very sweet,” adds Ian. “It was perfect. Did you see my mouth drooling?”
Al-Saadi believes his success is part of a wider trend.
“I think people have started to move away from franchises and international chains to have the power to learn from other people and create similar things in a better way,” he says.
Al-Saadi hopes to go cashless by the start of the new year and is also developing an app where you can place your order, get a table number and have your food delivered as soon as you arrive.
Not bad for a business that started as a mini pancake stand just a few years ago.
A vegan business empire
How do you build a vegan business empire? Well, there is one man in Qatar who knows better than most – Ghanim al Sulaiti. The young founder of Enbat Holdings has created seven successful vegan businesses – from restaurants to skin care.
“I didn’t come from a business background,” he says. “I had to learn everything from scratch. I had to kind of immerse myself in the process. So the beginning was very exciting. We tried to create a space that can inspire people, that can revolutionize the way people eat in Qatar , because we felt that people in Qatar were not aware when it comes to our eating habits and how food actually affects our health. Six years later, it’s no longer a small business. I mean, we’re talking about 13 food and beverage locations . We’re talking about two spas that are fully operational. We’re talking about 250 employees and our team members. I always tell people that Doha is now becoming the most vegan-friendly city in the world. I compare to New York and LA and London and Paris , because it has 13 vegan restaurant locations around the city.”
Ghanim believes that veganism is more than a diet.
“Veganism is a lifestyle and that’s why I call it a movement because it’s not just about food,” he says. “It goes beyond that. It goes to the farms. It goes to the way we treat animals, the way we dress every day. So I think being vegan is being the best version of yourself in the current moment with the current situation global”.
One of Ghanim’s locations is Evergreen Organics in the Gate mall. It combines a shop integrated into a restaurant.
“So the idea here was to create an escape for people walking around the mall, surrounded by, you know, plants and greenery,” he says. “Evergreen is an all-day dining experience. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have around 70 items on the menu. But at the same time we have a nice supermarket. The idea is to encourage people to buy local because we have a lot of local produce and we work with local businesses and local farms to provide really good food.”
Also in the Gate mall is Mylk, a vegan ice cream and chocolate shop.
“We tried to design it in a way that it kind of reflected the beauty of Scandinavian design,” says Ghanim. “But at the same time making sure it reflects the simplicity and allows people to enjoy a different kind of space when it comes to veganism and doesn’t look like a vegan place. But for us, that’s kind of the goal behind the concept.”
There is a whole range of services: Green & Go, to grab what you need quickly, Evergreen, where people can take more time, and Mylk for sweets that are still healthy.
“It’s an ecosystem of businesses, so each business complements the other,” says Ghanim. “Green & Go is for people on the go. In the metro, Evergreen is more like a weekend getaway. Mylk is more for when you feel like you have a sweet tooth and want to fulfill some kind of craving. So each concept feeds into the right place for the right audience.”
Preparing for the World Cup legacy
With an estimated 1.5 million soccer fans coming to Qatar in November for the World Cup, there are plenty of opportunities for savvy businesses to capitalize on foreign visitors eager to experience what the country has to offer.
In 2015, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – the organization responsible for planning Qatar 2022 – launched an open call for businesses to develop projects that could eventually play a role in the FIFA World Cup. That initiative was called Challenge 22.
“We wanted to inspire the people who use the FIFA World Cup and make their products and services part of the overall journey and the tournament itself,” says Ahsan Mansoor, director of fan engagement and ambassadors at the Supreme Committee. “Hopefully, beyond that, people will continue to look to mega-events as inspiration for innovation.”
Solar paving stones
Twelve regional companies were ultimately announced as winners, including SunPave. Co-founded by engineer Mohammad Al Gammal, the idea is quite unusual: solar panels you can walk on.
“What’s special about our products is that they offer the freedom to install solar panels without impeding or confusing the use of the space,” he says. “So you don’t have to install frames and put normal panels on them and mess with the landscape and the architecture of the locations. But instead, you just use them as paving and your space is still usable.”
As part of the Challenge 22 legacy, Al Thumama Stadium will have SunPave solar panels installed ahead of the FIFA World Cup in a dedicated area outside the stadium.
“For the duration of the World Cup, the stadium management has decided that some of this power will go towards powering an electronic charging area where people can sit down to relax a bit and maybe recharge their devices,” says Mohammad.
An experiential market
Another Challenge 22 project that plans to cater to visitors in a different way is the tourist app ViaVii. Originally created in Jordan, it offers visitors a one-stop shop to access various local attractions.
“It’s an experiential marketplace platform where curators can list their experiences online,” says ViaVii operations leader Faiha Sahirah.
“We’re connecting people who want to explore new things, find unique and adventurous things to do that you can’t really find anywhere else, and be able to meet someone who can provide those services.”
Local artist Rima Abuharb was approached to collaborate with ViaVii last year.
“For FIFA visitors,” says Rima. “I will hold more workshops for them to create their own designs from their minds. Because I feel what I’m proposing and everything I do is I want people to explore their imagination.”
The company works with curators not found simply through Google, such as Mohammed Al Sulaiti whose boat trips operate entirely through word of mouth, or a local farm that offers family days.
With just weeks to go until the start of the world’s biggest sporting event and millions of eyes on Qatar, all of the Challenge 22 winners are hoping their businesses can meet a market need that extends long after the tournament ends.
And for a stunning view of the business district, there’s no better place than the helipad of the JW Marriott Hotel.