Patatello gives much-needed dose of cafe culture to Fujairah

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Amid the car-repair garages, corner shops and dusty streets, something new is happening in Fujairah.
Emirati anime posters - inspired by Japanese cartoons - hang in the window. Inside, a guitar stands by the counter, a Victorian-style bike rests against a wall and customers sip coffee from mugs with Emirati art on the sides.
This is Patatello Cafe, which has brought a much-needed dose of cafe culture to Murbah. Its owner, local entrepreneur Hamad Al Shareif, opened the cafe on Al Murbah Street two years ago with the help of a friend, Omar Al Dhuhoori.
"It all started with the Turkish jacket potato," says Al Shareif, 28.
"But back then, I did not have any background in cooking or baking."
Al Shareif found a Filipina chef who could bake the crispy-skinned potatoes Turkish street food-style - it is served heaped with mozzarella, black and green olives, slices of hot dog and other ingredients. He hired her immediately and opened the cafe, which he named Patatello, a nod to the Arabic word for potato.
From such a simple idea, the cafe has become a huge hit, drawing customers from Fujairah and beyond - and garnering a massive following on social media.
Al Shareif runs the cafe's Instagram account (@patatello_cafe), which has more than 16,000 followers, and he takes the time to interact with customers and take photos with them.
The menu varies from week to week, but the most popular dishes are variants of the baked potato and dynamite shrimp (shrimp mixed with spices). But the must-have on the menu is "The Wanasa Cup" (Joy Cup), which consists of scoops of caramel ice cream on top, with kunafa sprinkles and brownies at the bottom.
The Wanasa Cup costs Dh44, but customers get to take the mug home with them.
One customer, Ali Hassan, heard about Patatello Cafe through word of mouth; he drove all the way from Dubai to try it out and he's now a regular customer.
"In Dubai we have many res­taurants," he says. "But the majority of them do not retain their standards."
As for Patatello Cafe, he has tried most of the dishes on the menu.
"The owner is doing a great job and he always makes sure to add a new item on the list, which keeps me going back to his shop every two to three weeks."
Hassan is hoping a branch will open in Dubai.
Another regular to Patatello Cafe is Ali Al Motairi, 18, who is local to Murbah. He sees the recently opened restaurant as a positive sign of growth: City Centre Fujairah opened a few years ago and more malls are planned.
In the past, he says, "we often spent our free time with family, as Fujairah didn't offer much in the way of entertainment ... [But today] Fujairah is gradually catching up with other emirates.
"When we find a pleasing ambience to spend our time, we cling to it. Patatello is unique because every week it offers new items and they all taste good."
So what's the secret to Al Shareif's success and what are his plans for the future?
"There is no secret," he says. "It's a combination of hard work, extensive research and delegating to the right people."
Al Shareif is busy making plans for a second branch in Fujairah and is also thinking about expanding to other emirates.
"The rich and the poor should be able to afford and taste my food."
Asmaa Al Hameli is a features writer at The National