Sister act at Dubai restaurant Rainbow Steakhouse

When a family business is handed to a second generation, there is a time of transition. But sisters Maya and Deepa say the old and the new can work in harmony.

Sisters Deepa, left, and Maya John Marjoran have their hands full ushering in new technology, processes and a brand makeover at the Rainbow Steakhouse. Satish Kumar / The National
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For two sisters from Kerala, India, getting to grips with the restaurant business their father started more than 30 years ago is a steep learning curve.

But at Rainbow Steakhouse, a permanent fixture on the UAE restaurant scene since the late 1970s, change is already afoot thanks to the efforts of Maya and Deepa John Manjooran.

Charged with managing the accounting, one of the first changes Maya introduced after coming on board was to link all the restaurants to the head office.

“Now our office gets automatically updated about sales,” she says.

Rainbow Steakhouse has four restaurants in Sharjah and two in Dubai.

When a family business is handed to a second generation, it is a time of transition. But if well-managed, it can improve a company’s performance, says the UK-based Family Business Institute. For now, the sisters have their hands full, ushering in new technology, processes and a brand makeover.

“It was not a conscious decision to come into the business, but because I was frequenting the offices anyway, I started looking into the accounts and office management,” says Maya, 31. She came on board in 2009 and a year later, her 26-year-old sibling Deepa followed.

“I used to do summer jobs [at the restaurant] when I was a child, polishing cutlery and wiping glasses,” Deepa says.

She has worked as a hospitality management intern at various departments in Dubai’s seven-star Burj Al Arab, including its kitchen, where she tempered chocolate. During that time she learnt to manage checklists for staff to streamline performance, something she has now implemented at the family business.

“It was initially difficult but it was our job to make sure it’s done,” Deepa says.

The siblings are also project-managing the completion of a 13,500-square-foot central kitchen in Al Ghusais in the next six months. All the sauces, bases and marinades for the restaurant chain and its catering services are now prepared at its kitchen in Sharjah. The current kitchen serves 3,000 people every day, according to the company.

“[The central kitchen] will help standardise our food, and make it easier to open other restaurants,” Maya says. “It will also double our capacity.”

The restaurant house is also scouting for locations in Dubai.

If they do expand into the emirate, the sisters say it will mean a break away from their signature Arabesque decor and buffet-style menu, and a return to its original steakhouse offering.

When their father John Manjooran, now 61, launched Rainbow Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi in 1978, it catered to the expat community in the oil sector. In the 1980s, as oil prices tumbled, the steakhouse’s clientele thinned out along with a growth in appetite from local customers.

“That’s when we started Arabic cuisine and we still serve it,” Maya says. “We picked up the buffet concept, too, as it was popular with the new customers.”

In 1990, the business moved to Sharjah. It had already started catering to the Sharjah cricket ground in the 1980s and followed the business there.

Now, despite the high rents in the areas such as Dubai Downtown, Business Bay or Dubai Marina. the sisters want to expand the brand into new Dubai,

“We want to go back to the steakhouse concept, with an open kitchen or grill,” Maya says. “And in New Dubai because that’s where the city is growing. People in Dubai eat out more, and while rents are expensive, the investment is worth it.”

In the next couple of years, the company expects to invest about Dh4 million in new restaurants alone. Last year, its revenues were around Dh3m.

While Mr Manjooran is open to his offsprings’ ideas, the sisters know it is difficult for him to change everything he has been doing for so many years.

“He’s a perfectionist and old school,” Deepa says. “And we are saying ‘let’s experiment and do promotions’.”

She adds that the company has never used marketing in the past making it a new concept for their father, who thinks food should speak for itself.

“If we don’t, new people wouldn’t know about us or be aware of us,” Maya says.

So after 36 years in business, Rainbow Steakhouse launched its own website for the first time last August.

Mr Manjooran, however, still keeps control over the menu.

“We three have different tastes, but we work better when we work together,” Maya says.

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