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What exactly does it take to create a brand that stands the test of time? “Be different, confident and follow your instinct, then find people that share the same ethos and vision as you do,” says Rainer Becker, founder and owner of Zuma.

The restaurateur first opened the iconic contemporary Japanese restaurant in 2002 and decided to take the risk to bring the luxury restaurant brand to Dubai in 2008, well before the F&B industry exploded to be what we know it as today.

Now, as the UAE marks its 50th anniversary and Zuma heads into its 13th year in the region, the restaurant has consistently stayed at the top of its game, even as new arrivals entered the DIFC and wider Dubai dining scene. So, what’s the secret to success? “Product, consistency, and our team are key!” Becker says. “We all work towards a common goal of constantly driving the business forward.”

Emirates Man sat down with the globally acclaimed restauranteur to delve deeper into how he’s created such an iconic brand in the F&B space here in the UAE and how Zuma has paved the way for the dining scene here in Dubai.

Next year will mark Zuma’s 13th year in Dubai, which is an incredible milestone. How has Zuma Dubai stayed at the helm of the F&B industry here in this region even after such a long period of time?

Product, consistency, and our team are key! We all work towards a common goal of constantly driving the business forward. I believe all elements within a restaurant hold equal importance, design, service, food, drinks, lighting, music. We have all been out for dinner and had great food but if the service is not up to scratch you are not likely to return. We work incredibly hard as a business to ensure that all areas are of the highest standard.

What first inspired you to bring the Zuma brand to Dubai?

We opened Zuma London in 2002 with my business partner Arjun Waney; the success and growth far exceeded our expectations. We were only ever planning to open one restaurant. As the business organically flourished, we started to look at other cosmopolitan locations; destinations where our existing customers travelled to regularly, this led us to Hong Kong, Istanbul and then Dubai of course, which we opened in 2008.

At the time, and to this day, our decision to open in a specific location is really driven by our customer base. Cities such as Hong Kong and Dubai are where our customers travelled for work or for vacations and it made sense to follow our clients. I am very proud that Zuma Dubai has stood the test of time, every restaurant that we open has an element of risk. Dubai was a very new marketplace at the time and the F&B offering wasn’t as extensive as it is now.

Zuma - Rainer Becker

Zuma really paved the way to make the DIFC dining scene what it is today. What’s it been like to see the restaurant scene expand so much over the last 13 years?

When we opened there was no dining scene in the DIFC! At the time there was just the Lebanese restaurant, Al Mandaloun, and us – literally. Zuma grew from strength to strength and with that success came the eyes of our competitors. Slowly, at first, then more and more restaurants started to move into DIFC. It is now a lot more competitive, but I believe competition is very healthy, it drives the business forward and forces you to strive to better.

What sets the F&B scene apart in the UAE from the rest of the world?

As I said, the market has changed significantly. There has been a huge influx of international restaurant names. The Dubai market is crowded but no more so than anywhere else, it is probably just felt more because it’s happened relatively quickly. This is not a negative thought, Dubai has become an international dining destination in recent years, and I believe it will continue to be.

What would you say is the secret to success when it comes to creating a brand which stands the test of time in the restaurant industry?

Be different, confident and follow your instinct, then find people that share the same ethos and vision as you do. The most important element of your business/brand is by far your team. I am very fortunate that we have amazing people working with us, many have been with the company 15 or more years. Our businesses would not be successful without these people – they are passionate, work long hours and put in blood, sweat and tears!

Additionally, I am a Chef. When we opened Zuma London almost 20 years ago, I was in the kitchen everyday cooking and working on the menu. My focus is slightly different now, but my heart is still very much in the kitchen, and I work with all the teams internationally on new dishes. As I mentioned previously, the key to Zuma is a product and without being a chef I am not sure I would place as much importance on it.

In five words, how would you describe the last 13 years of Zuma Dubai?

Exciting, challenging, educational, innovative and rewarding.

To date, what have been the biggest challenges Zuma Dubai has had to overcome?

For sure COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge, it was/is an unprecedented time. We had to act quickly, think on our feet, and change our operations in ways that we never saw coming.

Meanwhile, what have been the key milestones?

There are countless if I’m honest, we have been fortunate enough to be blessed with many awards and accolades which is fantastic but fundamentally not what it is all about for me. I am most proud about what we have built, Zuma Dubai has been key in facilitating the growth of the group – new restaurants can only open when your foundation is strong and that is based on our existing restaurants. For example, we opened ROKA in Dubai last year and we were confident to do so, due to the wonderful reception we received with Zuma.

This year we celebrate the UAE’s 50th Anniversary – what makes this region unique to you?

The rapid growth is outstanding to me. Dubai, specifically, has physically grown so quickly and when you think of the population which has grown around 500+ percent in the last 30 years it really is mind-blowing. Today it’s an international business hub and luxury tourist destination, who would have thought.

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Images: Supplied