Welcome to EW’s 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 we chat with the founder of Restaurant Secrets Inc. (RSI), Gabrielle Mather. With a wealth of international experience having lived in the UK, Singapore and the UAE, Gabrielle is a seasoned expert in the restaurant industry.

With RSI focussing on creating a 360-degree experience for F&B concepts, Gabrielle has led the development of over 300 concepts throughout her career, including La Serre, Taikun, The Loft at Dubai Opera and more.

EW sat down with Gabrielle to discover more about her career and the unique concept that is RSI.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Literature and history. I’ve been a reader and writer from my earliest memories. The library was my favourite part of campus!

What was your first job?

I love fashion and found myself happily employed at some of the best couture brands, most of my high school summers. I was also an excellent customer to them as I ‘invested’ my pay right back into the stores I worked in.

What inspired you to go into the food industry?

It was destiny. Because of my love for luxury and fashion, my first business was actually a fashion store that I opened at 21. My kind investor was my mother and I made all the classic mistakes of wrong location, product etc. I learnt a lot, and knew without a doubt I was a die-hard entrepreneur and ready to continue learning until I made it. My passion is to create and conceptualize a vision into reality and this was easily transferred to F&B because I could now tell stories through food. When I met my now ex-husband who was equally passionate about F&B, we joined hands to launch our first restaurant in 2003. The rest is history.

What eventually brought you to Dubai?

I came as a young girl with my family and initially planned to stay a couple of years and then travel the world. The opportunities that came my way, made me stay longer and longer. I’ve just celebrated my 25th year in UAE in July 2021.

Can you talk us through the story behind Restaurant Secrets Inc.?

RSI is a story of passion and grit and was built in response to the first recession of 2008 to help entrepreneurs avoid making the usual pitfalls and mistakes in F&B. The sometimes clichéd statement of ‘wanting to serve a need’, was actually the cornerstone of RSI and I have learned that any agenda that is good, sustainable and done with integrity will find fruit. RSI is a company that was built to purposefully utilize passions and gifts, both mine and the gifts of people who have come and joined hands with us to bring to harvest what we are assigned. We may do F&B as a product but at our core, we are stewards of dreams. Over the last decade, we have grown into a 360 solution F&B consultancy and we provide all solutions to opening an F&B business and then keeping it thriving with strategic business solutions with both creative & operational tools.

What are the key elements of your role?

As the Founder & CEO, I bring leadership, strategic direction and daily management to the team. For our clients, I am still the first and last point of contact. I am deeply involved in the concept creation and strategic development of our projects from start to end. My job is to deliver promises through smart integration of efficient systems and creative ideas, provide mentorship, tools and resources where needed and keep an eye on new opportunities for growth. Learning and evolving myself and our services constantly is my personal JD for myself.

Talk us through your daily routine.

It’s a mix of both client-facing and the team facing meetings. Brainstorming ideas with my team and then quiet times by myself to develop concepts, strategies form a major part of my exciting workday. I consult clients one to one and on average meet five potential new clients a week for consultations on either opening a new restaurant or helping someone revive a struggling one. My favourite part is when we are in the middle of opening a new restaurant. Then you will find me in the kitchen, on the floor, taking orders, just immersed in the thrill of F&B. I love what I do & one day I could be conceptualizing interiors, brands and on another, I could be training a team on the hardcore operational systems of our industry. I love it all!

What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?

I believe our gifts will make a way if we allow ourselves to seek first who we are & then boldly be who we are created to be. Knowing who you are and then pursuing what you are meant to be is the first step to success. Believing in yourself, surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and then taking calculated risks is the way to make a difference in your own life & in others’. The F&B business per se can be glamorous and rewarding on the outside but it takes a lot of operational and financial understanding to succeed in it, both as an operator and a consultant. Learn your trade, master your trade, keep learning from mistakes, understand that leadership is a servant role, not a dictator’s position. Never underestimate the power of ‘team’. Be grateful and do everything you do with prayer, faith and grit.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

“Seek first His kingdom a d righteousness and all things will be given to you.” My earthly mentor shared the best secret to his own success both as a human being as well as a billionaire and pointed me to The Source who until today is my best advisor. I continue being inspired & motivated by age-old wisdom like Andrew Carnegie’s principles of success, Stephen Covey’s writings, Oprah’s grit and Churchill’s passion. When we do what we do with an agenda to bring value and win-win scenarios, we inadvertently contribute to prosperity for all. That is one true sustainable strategy. It may be a narrow and tougher path but if it leads north, it’s a good place to be.

And what is the worst?

“Don’t rock the boat, just go with it.” I believe we need to equip ourselves to be prepared to have tough conversations, say no and have the integrity to trust our intuitions and not just go with the flow. To create success and prosperity one needs a win-win mentality and for that, boats have to be rocked, paths have to be chosen, and tough decisions made with an end in mind. Mastering the ‘No’ is crucial.

What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

Life is a series of battles and victories. We can only choose to get better at learning from challenges. I’ve gone through failures in business, lost everything in the first recession of 2008. Built a bigger and better business in 2010. But perhaps my biggest challenge to date was seeing my marriage collapse slowly and finally unyoked myself from it in January 2020. Then I was hit with the pandemic while still processing the pain of separation. Rebuilt my company Restaurant Secrets, walked away from my partnership in Lincoln Hospitality after building brands like La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, Distillery, and The Loft, and while all this was unfolding, I found myself without a family home, so rolled up my sleeves to build a new one, a safe refuge for my son and myself, juggling my hours on a construction site. I look back at the challenges of 2020 and I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve walked through fire and emerged through trials because of my faith, prayers, intentional choice to believe in who God says I am and has called me to be. Challenges give us great choices. I choose to operate under grace rather than under fear. My last year is a testimony to what God can do with our brokenness.

What are your goals for 2021?

I am excited about launching a new Business Consultancy called Cornerstone 61 that will focus on brand and operational management of operational restaurants. It will complement the great work we do at RSI with services tailor-made to operational businesses. On the personal front, I am intentionally pursuing peace & new beginnings for myself and my son. I am emerging a new person after my trials of the last 2 years and I am excited at getting to know the new me and living my story. I believe in balance and I constantly pursue it in all areas of my life, spiritual, social, financial, mental, familial, professional etc and I am determined to embrace and enjoy every part of my journey.

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