We talk to Ida Garphagen, General Manager at SUSHISAMBA on being ahead of the game in an ever-changing industry

What is the inspiration behind the restaurant – tell us more?

The concept and idea of SUSHISAMBA came to light in early 90’s when our founder Shimon Bokovza travelled to Brazil and fell in love with the vibrant culture and diversity of the country. SUSHISAMBA is based on the food and culture born out of the emigration of thousands of Japanese to South America in the early 20th Century. Fast forward a few years, and the first ever SUSHISAMBA opens in New York in 1999 – it was the place to be back then, and I believe everyone is familiar with the famous SUSHISAMBA’s “Pink Cosmo” from Sex and the City. SUSHISAMBA is one of the very first restaurants that embraced the lifestyle offering and made the dining experience fun and multi-dimensional in every city.

How does SUSHISAMBA Dubai differ from the other four global locations?

SUSHISAMBA is recognized worldwide, yet every location is unique with its own concept. They are all different from one another, providing guests with a new and immersive experience at each as they travel globally.

What are the must-try hero dishes?

Our bite size yellowtail taquitos are very popular, and I can see why – they are the perfect size to enjoy with a pre-dinner drink. My personal favourite is the seabass anticucho glazed in sweet miso and grilled over the robata – anyone that walks through the doors of our restaurant can’t leave without trying them. Our SAMBA Dubai roll, which is a lobster maki roll, is always special since it is exclusive to Dubai only.

How does the F&B industry in the UAE differ from other cities globally?

With big cities, comes high competition as the option for consumers become endless. Here in Dubai, we have guests visiting from all over the world, and this helps when consumers recognize chain names – global brand names tend to perform better than smaller local brands. But this, of course, trickles down to the preference of residents and visitors and the overall experience provided. Nowadays, consumers want to know that they are not only savouring delicious food but are gaining an overall dining experience, and when they are bombarded with so many options, opting for a global brand name is always a safe choice. This is exactly why, we must never take our customers for granted, and need to stay relevant in this ever-evolving market.

You have a stunning 360-degree view, was this the plan from the outset?

We wanted to make sure we would represent the brand in the best way possible, knowing SUSHISAMBA Heron Tower in London is offering a breathtaking view overlooking London’s most iconic landmarks. Here at SUSHISAMBA Dubai, you can see 360-degree views of the entire Palm Jumeirah, the pristine waters of the Arabian Gulf, the skyline of Dubai Marina and if the day is clear, the Burj Khalifa is visible as well. And what better location to see the city than an afternoon here, savouring the delicious flavours of Japan, Brazil and Peru all under one roof while sipping on a glass of champagne.

You recently launched the afternoon Sky Tea at SUSHISAMBA, can you elaborate on this experience?

At SUSHISAMBA, we want our guests to enjoy more of what we have to offer and take advantage of our wonderful SAMBA room, which has tantalizing floor to ceiling views of the Palm Jumeirah. Guests can indulge in a delicious selection of sweet and savory bites that are beautifully displayed on a three-tier spiral tree accompanied by a wide selection of loose teas, fine Japanese teas, coffee, or bubbly. I can’t think of a better location to watch the sunset in Dubai while Bossa Nova tunes set the perfect ambiance.

What piece of advice can you give someone starting out in the hospitality industry or looking to start their own business?

It’s always best to start from the bottom up and build the experience needed for any position you’re planning on joining. If you’re looking to start your own business, it’s always great to learn from existing organizations and then applying the lessons learned to your own model. If you want to be a CEO for example, then you must understand all aspects of the business before you start at the top – it’s recommended to break it down into smaller compartmentalized areas first, so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Lastly, don’t be scared to roll up your sleeves and be prepared to work hard for what you want. And in times of difficulty, always ask for help and never give up.

What are the plans for growth and what’s next for SUSHISAMBA?

We are expanding the brand with openings in Riyadh, Edinburgh, and Bahrain in 2023, Milan is due to open in the second quarter of 2024 – major expansions for SUSHISAMBA in the following years to come. As for the venue in Dubai, we will continue to enhance our guest experience and focus on our most recent activation, Sky Tea at the SAMBA room.

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