In a new series we talk to UAE food institutions that have been serving customers for decades about these unprecedented times...
If you want to find authentic Pakistani food in Dubai, Ravi Restaurant is likely to be the first place that is recommended.
Established in 1978 by the mild-mannered Chaudary Abdul Hameed, Ravi has become a tourist attraction that visitors to Dubai seek out. But it also has its loyal customers who visit week in, week out.
The one thing its patrons have in common?
They want to eat some of the city’s most famous chicken tikka and mutton kebabs. It is known for its fuss-free interiors, its reasonable prices (a cup of tea still goes for Dh2) and a menu that has stood the test of time (the chicken handi is legendary).
But after serving Dubai residents for 42 years, Ravi restaurant, like most hospitality businesses around the world, has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been very badly affected by this and have spent the past few weeks trying to figure things out. It has come to a point where we are selling off personal assets to repay debts.
"We are also looking at layoffs,” says Waheed Abdul Hameed, managing director and son of Chaudary.
Like all Dubai restaurants, Ravi closed its branches in March, only allowing deliveries from one outlet to sustain its operations. In accordance with government regulations, it opened one of its branches for dine-in (at 30 per cent capacity) at the beginning of Eid.
However, as Waheed explains, delivery alone has not been able to cover the salaries of its more than seventy staff, let alone other expenses.
“A restaurant like ours makes more money on dine-in than delivery. There were days we didn’t even get Dh1000, and food aggregator apps did nothing to help. How are we able to sustain on that much?”
However, Waheed says the biggest expense has been rent. Ravi has branches in Satwa and Karama. Satwa is its original, and most famous branch.
“It would have made a difference if landlords could be a bit flexible,” says the son of the founder. “Even just giving tenants a little bit of time for things to start up before asking them to pay. But that relief has not been there.”
Waheed says this has been the biggest challenge faced by the restaurant, at least during his lifetime.
From labourer to restaurateur: the success story of Ravi
Chaudary, the restaurant's founder, came from a humble background.
He arrived in the UAE on January 1, 1970 from Wazirabad, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. He worked as a labourer in Dubai before starting the widely successful restaurant 42 years ago.
“Since then, my father has hardly left the country," says Waheed. "I have grown up and studied here. The UAE is home to us.”
The family are known for their philanthropy: every year on the morning of Pakistan Independence Day in August they put on a free breakfast at the Pakistani Consulate. When The National visited in 2014, they served about 500 people. They've been putting on this breakfast for more than three decades.
Ravi was chosen as one of the UAE restaurants to be showcased at Expo 2020 Dubai – an event the owners were looking forward to. “The government was helping us with that and we were very grateful to be among the local businesses asked to participate. But, unfortunately, that event has also been postponed. We don’t know if we will survive to be there,” says Waheed.
Despite everything, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the restaurant as Dubai eases restrictions. Waheedsays he hopes that things will get better now that people will be out until 11pm.
“Inshallah, we will bounce back,” he says. “We hope our customers can support us as they have supported us over the years. It is going to be an uphill task – only together can we fight this.”