By Heba Hashem
Owning a restaurant is the ultimate dream for any ambitious chef and Paul Frangie is no exception. The Lebanese-Dutch culinary expert opened Hapi in November 2016 at Alserkal Avenue, introducing a new concept to one of Dubai’s biggest cultural communities.
Part café, part activity center, the spacious venue brings together the founder’s top two passions – food and fitness – housing dedicated areas for dining, yoga and parkour.
“We’re quite accessible. Al Serkal is a very supportive community as a whole and many businesses here complement each other. There are offices and gallery owners, and people come for breakfast and lunch,” said Frangie.
The menu includes coffee, fresh juices, soft-serve ice cream, as well as heartier dishes such as organic bone broth and smoked salmon burger, all served from an open kitchen.
Up until launching however, little went according to plan for the 31-year old entrepreneur.
“Originally I wanted to do this concept by the beach, but it’s difficult to find the right space that makes sense financially to combine these two businesses. My second option was a warehouse because of the sheer size of such spaces,” he explained.
Turning an empty warehouse into a multi-purpose venue took twice as long as he’d anticipated, which meant paying rent without generating revenue. In addition, he had to deal with an incident where a burst pipe flooded the area, damaging much of the construction material.
“It took us a year to complete the fit-out from signing the lease. I was lucky to find a good team quickly, but I didn’t have much time to put an operating system in place,” he added.
Within just 10 days, the team had tested different versions of the dishes, developed the menu and launched. “We’re still tweaking things. There are always unexpected obstacles; you just have to be ready to deal with them,” the owner said.
Securing finance was less of an ordeal. Initially, Frangie approached a group of angel investors with his proposition and a handful were willing to put in money, but eventually he settled for a family investment.
“I pitched the idea to my family and convinced them it would provide great return on their investment. Now it’s just me and my local partner. He comes from a strong financial consulting background and is involved in other businesses, so he’s familiar with the struggles of start-ups,” he said.
Entrepreneurs seeking investors should decide from the start how much of their business they’re willing to give away and at what cost, he recommends.
“If you don’t have the funds to begin with, then you need someone else’s money and they will want to own part of your business. The more partners you have, or the more share a partner has, the more money that goes to them.”
Cooking up a storm
With a degree in economics, Frangie decided to obtain the prestigious Cordon Bleu Diploma from Tante Marie Culinary Academy in England. He then honed his culinary skills in some of London’s best kitchens, including the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Back in Dubai, he rose to fame through a mini-series on YouTube and collaborations with Danish dairy giant Lurpak as its brand ambassador. Soon after, he was invited to appear on ITV in the UK and on Dubai TV as part of a live-cooking segment.
With a cookbook offer in hand and the idea of Hapi on mind, Frangie opted to focus on his café project.
Future growth he said could come through expanding the menu to include dinner, or even franchising the outlet. However for the time being, his priority is to sustain the three-month old business through the tough economic environment and rising competition.
“Dubai is highly competitive for F&B. But that’s a good thing. You have to show the best version of your business every single day,” Frangie admitted.
He advises new entrepreneurs to be prepared to work harder than ever and to constantly improve on what they’re doing.
“I need to be here every day to ensure the quality of my food is consistent and to train my staff. If you want to own a business, you have to understand that you’re going to work harder than any of your employees.”