Just a few weeks ago, news broke that one of Dubai's much-loved establishments Lowe had ceased operations and was "rethinking its future". With the food and beverage industry hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, another Dubai venue has now announced that it will be shutting down. Kizmet, the restaurant located next to Dubai Opera in Downtown, will not be opening its doors again.
“The principal partners have decided to close the business permanently,” says Andre Gerschel, founder. “The space (real estate) itself will re-open at some point but certainly not as the same idea as before. The world has changed. There will be a new normal for us in this business but we have no idea what that is going to look like yet. We will have to evolve together.”
The news is a blow to Dubai’s food community as a whole. After all, Kizmet which opened in December 2018, was known for its Instagrammable interiors and creative dishes. For Gerschel, it was the quality of the food that held pride of place. “We never wanted to be another burrata restaurant. We aspired for so much more,” he says. True to his word, the restaurant had seasonal menus and dishes like Chickpea Fries, Beirut Yakitori and Kalbi Chicken Pizza – not a burrata in sight.
Gerschel credits this creativity to Kizmet’s multicultural staff. “This one time, during our pre-opening, I had to apply for all the staff visas and I had a stack of 27-different coloured passports in my hands. 27 different countries - that was and always will be something I was proud of. We elevated the food that we all individually missed from home."
“For example, we had a wonderfully talented Polish cook who, in our first season menu, put together a dish called “layover in Poland” - it was short-rib braised pierogi dumplings, grated frozen horseradish cream, caramelised onions and a shot of traditional beetroot borscht. The description was ‘everything you should eat if you had 72 hours in Poland’,” he reminisces.
However, it wasn’t just about the food either.
“It was the perfect neighbourhood restaurant, 80 seats, intimate open kitchen, uninterrupted Burj Khalifa views… I fell in love with the space immediately,” he says. “What could possibly go wrong?”.
No matter the quality of food, interiors or service, Gerschel, who currently serves as the regional director of operations of Baker & Spice, says that we can expect to see a lot of places closing down in the weeks or months to come.
According to him, while the coronavirus is a big factor, it is rooted in a larger problem. “A lot of restaurants were struggling before. People were eating in more and ghost kitchens were successfully consuming market share in the premium and casual sector. Restaurants at their best operate on razor thin margins with very low success rates. I think many operators agree that the coronavirus was an accelerator of an eventuality, rather than a catalyst.”
However, there is much consumers can do to help restaurants struggling during this time. Gerschel says catering and gift certificates are immediate “medicines”. “We have all seen incredible acts of generosity globally for restaurants. We’ve also seen restaurants putting out statements offering food to those who have lost a job, meal donations to front line workers, crowdfunding staff relief funds. That’s humanity at its best.”
For now, he encourages consumers to look at ways they can support not just local restaurants but farms and suppliers as well. “Our business isn’t a light switch. We need to ensure that the supply chain is protected – that means finding a way for restaurants to directly get in touch with suppliers who are likely sitting on thousands of kilos of unsold perishable food.”
Local bloggers in the UAE have also been advocating for food delivery platforms and aggregators to cut commission rates for restaurants as a way to ease their burden. Blogger Food Sheikh, in collaboration with ChatFood, also launched deliverdxb.com to connect restaurants with customers, helping them get 100 per cent of the profit.
“Support restaurants that are owner operated,” adds Gerschel. “Your penny goes farthest there. It will make a difference and help restart the engine.”