Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businesswomen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
This week Emirates Woman spoke to Aizada Usenova, Founder & CEO of Aiza Hospitality which currently has around 30 restaurants in their portfolio including such as EVA Beach House, Saya, Milky Jar and more.
Established in 2015, this leading hospitality group has a vast portfolio of fine dining, casual dining and lifestyle concepts.
To understand Usenova’s entrepreneurial journey, Emirates Woman spoke to her to delve into how it all began.
What was your favourite subject at school?
My Favorite subject at school was art, the classics and music. From early childhood I love to draw and paint and create art projects.
What was your first job?
My first job was as the assistant of a director in a large construction company. Whilst studying at university, I wanted my independence, and this job was the first stepping stone in my career to understand the intricacies of how businesses run. It was also my opportunity to step out from the shadows of my family and earn my own living.
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What brought you to Dubai?
They say in Dubai you cannot dream big enough and my goal was to reach the sky. The desire to become an international restauranteur brought me to Dubai. I wanted to expand my F&B business globally and to create a brand that would conquer the world. In 2019, the brand Saya Brasserie was created here in Dubai, which is now franchising on a global scale with branches in Los Angeles, London and even Libya.
What inspired you to enter the hospitality space and become and launch Aiza Hospitality?
From early age I was very interested in different and unique concepts of restaurant. It was my big dream to open a restaurant from being a child and having an interest in hosting parties for my friends. At the age of 23, I opened my first project in my hometown in Bishkek and it had tremendous success in the city. After this, my passion was ignited even further, and I started to open more restaurants. At the age of 26, I already had around five projects.
Talk us through the portfolio. What are the new launches in Dubai?
The Aiza Hospitality portfolio has more than 40 restaurants all over the world in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and UAE. And each concept has been designed and developed taking into the many factors including the target demographic, specialty cuisines and delivering a memorable hospitality experience for our guests. The portfolio is vast; we have a coffee shop chain, steakhouses, sushi projects, Italian cuisine, a few nightclubs, a Beach club, and numerous restaurants. We will be opening additional restaurants in Kazakhstan this year and we are also planning to enter into the Uzbekistan Market which is developing at an incredible rate now. In the UAE, we are planning to expand and open a few more Saya Brasserie concepts as the goal is to achieve around 100 branches across the world. Our dream is to take Saya across the globe and what better place to start than Dubai.
What are the key elements of your role?
I like to take a hands-on approach within my role as the head of Aiza Hospitality, but the aim is to build a company that will be successful globally with amazing projects that not only I, but my team are extremely proud of.
Talk us through your daily routine.
My daily routine revolves around my family and work. My day begins with my children and after I make sure to get them off to school, I try to get myself into the gym to work out. I feel like I need to have this balance as being a restauranteur, there are no shortages of food tastings and special dishes I need to try every day! From the gym I move into my daily meetings which revolve around trying to visit at least 2 different venues in my portfolio every day. Management meetings are a key part of my day which I prioritize to set weekly and monthly goals and to hear from my team about guest feedback, improvements for the venues and to hear from my team what they need. For me, teamwork is everything! At 7pm, I try to get home for family time and spend the evenings with my husband and kids. I call the weekends our “Holy time” as I exclusively spend time with my family trying to do different activities. We really enjoy spending time outdoors, especially going to different parks to cycle around. I find this time with my family to be really calming and necessary relief from the crazy work-week schedule.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
I advise everyone to proceed with caution. This is not the job for the faint-hearted, especially when you’re coming into the international market. High levels of care are needed. I know many people who have successful restaurants in their home countries who think that taking the brand abroad will also mean success in other countries. Market research is key! A great understanding of the market, the competitors and more so, the business practices is needed. I also believe that you need to live in the city you want to expand into for at least half a year to understand how it works. I also believe that the most important factor to consider is location. Location is EVERYTHING! And finding the right location isn’t easy. But once you do, and you have the right concept with the right location, you will always succeed.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
That everything has a reason. If something happening, then this happening for the best, even if you think that this is the worst. I always feel that is it important to believe in success and to take steps towards achieving it and never stop trying.
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And what is the worst?
I will let you know when I receive it!
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
I think the hardest challenge was navigating Covid. As a restauranteur, there was no manual on “How to Deal with Covid” as a business owner and this was the hardest challenge I have ever had to face. It affected every one of my outlets globally. Our restaurants are dine-in experiences, and we value the interaction with our guests above all else, and having to shut down was heartbreaking as I knew not only how it would affect me, but also my teams all over the world. It was a really hard time and there was no precedent on how to navigate something that no one knew anything about.
What are the future plans for the brand?
The future plan for Aiza Hospitality is to grow and hopefully, conquer the world.
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Images: Supplied & Feature Image: Instagram @evabeachhouse