Since its opening in 2015, The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill has become one of Dubai’s gastronomic hotspots.
Famed for its food as well as its unique atmosphere and image, this New England style Brasserie is one of the most popular restaurants in Dubai and that’s just the beginning. Founder and Managing Partner Joey Ghazal first had the vision for the eatery after moving back to Dubai from the United States and seeing a gap in the market for an American-style brasserie. He transformed an empty garage location into a high end, modern venue and has since won multiple awards for his achievements.
Following the success of The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill, Joey has opened MAINE Street Eatery in Studio City and the most recently MAINE Land Brasserie in Business Bay. With plans to take the concept internationally, this is only just the beginning for the Canadian entrepreneur.
Joey’s love for the restaurant business started at a young age taking his first job in the industry at just 18 years old. He worked his way up the ranks from busboy to waiter, to manager to head of concept development and marketing for one of Canada’s most prolific Restaurant development companies. He has developed dozens of popular restaurant and bar concepts across two continents but this is the first time he has seen his own vision and company come to life. A motivated entrepreneur, Joey is always striving to achieve more. We find out what’s next on his to-do list and how he plans to always stay ahead of the competition.
This year has been a strange year for all – what is something you have learnt from this period?
Strange is an understatement; it’s borderline Science Fiction! The main lesson I have learnt from all of this is that we are extremely susceptible to the forces of nature and we need to learn to live in better harmony with nature. At The Maine Group, we have spent the last six months asking ourselves what we can do to be more sustainable and more supportive of local businesses. We replaced many of our ingredients to ones from local farms, fisheries and producers, we introduced a plant-based menu across all our venues, and we introduced plastic-free delivery and banned all single-use plastics from our outlets. We have also started a campaign to use our discarded oyster shells to regenerate the coral reef on Dubai’s coastline to promote biodiversity in our waters. If everyone does his or her small part, the world would be in much better shape.
How did you manage your business over the lockdown period and have you changed anything moving forward?
I’m proud to say we were able to keep the entire original team together. Everyone had an essential role to play in the reopening of our exiting outlets and the opening of our newest outpost in the OPUS by Zaha Hadid in Business Bay, Dubai. We are a lean company and a small management team so we’re able to be more agile, react quicker and weather this storm better than others. We took advantage of the lockdown to migrate all of our systems and processes online, eliminating paper from our company and putting the power and the accountability squarely in the hands of all of our whole team. I strongly believe that this decentralized approach to management will keep our people happy, motivated and invested in the brand moving forward as we grow internationally.
The MAINE has been hugely successful since its opening – what is the secret to a successful hospitality business in Dubai where there is so much competition?
I wouldn’t call them secrets; it’s more a question of attention to detail. It starts with telling a compelling story that resonates with people. Great service, food and drinks are essential, but it is the ambience and the consistent delivery of those memorable moments that make The MAINE stand out. I believe a big part of our success is attributed to our die-hard regulars who feel like they are part of a community lifestyle.
How do you keep ahead of the game when things change so quickly in today’s society?
It doesn’t matter who’s following, as long as they can’t keep up. We constantly have to stay ahead of the game by challenging ourselves to be better – to give a better experience for our guests and our team alike. That constant need to improve and innovate is the key to being in that top 10% of companies that are benchmarks for the rest.
You have already grown your business to various locations but what would you still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
The big test will be growing the brand internationally. The MAINE as a New England Brasserie concept is unique internationally. I am excited to develop the brand further with our own cookbook, retail items and of course, a flagship location that will give the brand a platform internationally. There is still so much to do.
What advice would you give to anyone who is afraid to chase his or her dreams?
There are many types of fear – fear of failure, fear of commitment, fear of risk. These fears are like walls that we build around ourselves, boxing ourselves in. You have to live as though there are no walls around you; this is how you access your limitless potential. For some people their dreams seem overwhelming, I would say start small – make a list, do the research, make the phone call, set up the meeting, ask the question from others in your field. If something comes to your mind, do it immediately, don’t procrastinate, and just get it done. If you do enough of these small things often enough, you will realise that you’re already living your dream.
This issue is about success – how would you define success?
Success is about balance in all aspects of your life. Every part of your life needs attention – your family, your health, your partnerships, your work, and your hobbies. If any of these are neglected, then all of them are neglected and you won’t even be able to truly appreciate or even enjoy your successes.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
I’m very proud of The MAINE as a brand, but mostly as a family. Not only our team but also the regulars who feel like The MAINE is their home. Being able to bring these people together gives me the greatest amount of pride.
How do you manage your time and get a good work/life balance?
Routine and discipline are key to getting a good balance. I take time to myself to recharge so that I can give time and energy when needed. The restaurant business is very emotional, so you always need to keep a clear head and maintain a thick skin or you won’t be able to survive.
What is a challenge you have faced throughout your journey and how did you overcome it?
Struggles and failures are part of the journey. I often ask myself ‘where did I get all of that energy and willpower to start again and keep going every time I failed?’ The key is to keep the hunger alive, not to allow yourself to become demotivated from challenges or complacent from success – but to keep the curiosity alive.
You were born in the UAE but spent many years in North America – how do you think your experience in both countries has influenced the person you are today?
Those of us who grew up in Dubai in the 80s and 90s feel like we are part of the history of the city, so Dubai has always felt like home and yet when I moved back in 2013 I realised that the city was missing a truly North American Brasserie experience and so I only did what was obvious and familiar to me. Dubai made me dream big, but being from Montreal grounds me and my work. I always want to bring that authenticity to my restaurants.
What do you look for in good team members?
The only criteria to work for us is to be a generous and kind person, only then will you be able to serve from your soul. That is not something that can be taught or trained, it’s about upbringing. You can immediately spot a person that loves to make other people happy or someone that just wants a job.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Take time before making a decision. I used to get very excited about projects or opportunities until I realised the amount of time and energy projects need to be nurtured and executed properly. My time is more valuable than any project, so I need to be absolutely sure that I can give enough time and not be spreading myself too thin.
What is the life motto you live by?
Be the change you want to see.