Making a pop-up appearance as part of the big racing weekend, which runs from Friday to Sunday, is the much loved British restaurant Easy Tiger. It's located in the Al Ain Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.
How this undiscerning venue, with its sports bar meets Moulin Rouge design (there is even a small stage flanked by red curtains), found itself sharing real estate with the likes of Nobu and Il Borro Tuscan Bistro at the Yas Marina Circuit, is a testament to the hard work and dedication from sibling owners Brian and Chris Smith.
It is also one of the unlikeliest of achievements, considering Easy Tiger only opened in October last year before closing down for six months from March as a safety precaution against Covid-19.
“We were only beginning to get a buzz,” says Brian. “It was a difficult situation because we already had a great team and we didn’t want to lose them. So we really had to think on our feet.”
The solution? Hitting the road. Where other venues signed up to online platforms, such as Deliveroo and Zomato, Easy Tiger initially did it all in house.
This meant customers who ordered the popular full English breakfast, burgers and fish and chips from the Instagram account found the meals delivered directly by the owners.
More than cost cutting, Brian says each interaction was a chance to get to know more about their customers and what they enjoyed as well as some handy market intelligence.
“It was our breakfast meals that really put us on the local map, so to speak, and at one stage we were doing about 65 morning deliveries a day,” he says.
“Because we met our customers every day, we asked for feedback about the meals, the service and how can we improve.”
For example, one piece of advice given was to go easy on the burgers.
In order to garner social media attention, Easy Tiger initially offered monster-size sandwiches before trimming them down and focusing on the flavours.
Those daily exchanges also proved to be a blessing in disguise, Brian says, and when Easy Tiger reopened in September, the venue was filled with customers who also spread the word.
Some of that chatter made its way to the Yas Marina Circuit, who were looking for home-grown brands to showcase as part of the Abu Dhabi Formula One.
“We still don’t know exactly how they knew about us,” Brian says. “But I do remember being adamant with them that if we go to the Yas Marina Circuit, we were going to stay close to our menu and our price points. We are known for being an easy going place and we didn’t want to betray that just because we are suddenly now in the F1.”
From downtown to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
While the temporary move to the glitzy W Abu Dhabi hotel – with an exclusive balcony overlooking a section of the racing circuit – is far cry from the rustic vibes of Al Ain Palace, the brothers are confident they will channel the intimate vibe of Easy Tiger.
After all, it seems the last decade has been leading up to this very challenge. Brian and Chris entered the hospitality and events business through the backdoor, literally.
Beginning in 2013 with a small van and two speakers, the British duo began supplying Abu Dhabi restaurants and venues with audiovisual equipment, including lights and DJ decks.
“Normally when you are doing this you are seeing how things are set up and you can imagine what it will look like on the night,” Brian says.
Chris says: “You also begin to think how we do it if we actually had a venue of our own.”
That opportunity arrived in 2018 when the brothers took over Viewz, a small club at Cristal Hotel in Abu Dhabi’s Madinat Zayed.
While satisfied with how they “elevated” the venue by giving it a smart and casual vibe, it is with Easy Tiger that they could finally build the place they always dreamt off.
“When we got it first looked like a bingo hall,” Chris recalls. “So we had a lot of work to do to give it that theatrical vibe that we wanted.”
It’s all about community
While Brian admits Easy Tiger’s growth didn’t follow the industry rule book, he attributes its success to understanding Abu Dhabi’s sensibilities.
With the city’s restaurant scene flourishing with the recent launch of Yas Bay Waterfront and The Botanic Atrium, a food hall located in WTC Abu Dhabi, Brian cautions that a venue’s success lies more in the human touch than an eye-popping menu or location.
“Abu Dhabi is a very community-minded market and chances are you will bump into someone who also knows someone else you know,” he says.
“So we found that key is to create and maintain those local connections. Because the community is so tight knit, there is a lot of loyalty given if you make the effort.
“This what allowed us to survive in the pandemic and somehow getting involved in the Abu Dhabi F1. It’s unbelievable really.”
W Hotel Abu Dhabi, Yas Island; December 10 to 12; noon to 4am; packages from Dh599 from easytiger.ae