Keeping up with Jones The Grocer: Looking back on 25 years in the food business

As the restaurant chain celebrates its anniversary, owner Yunib Siddiqui shares 25 thoughts on food, failure and the future of F&B

Jones The Grocer
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In March, casual dining institution Jones The Grocer will celebrate 25 years in the food and beverage industry – 12 of those spent in the UAE, with the Australian chain's first franchised outlet opening in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

Celebrating the milestone amid a pandemic, and having not only survived, but also expanded in one of the most spoilt-for-choice and discerning (read, fickle) culinary regions, this year finds group chief executive and owner Yunib Siddiqui in a reflective mood as he – and the food industry as a whole – face relentless, rapid changes.

Increased demand for dine-out, social distancing measures in restaurants, an army of apps dedicated to food delivery, cloud kitchens and a return to home cooking ... all of these factors have put a strain on an industry that often groans under the weight of oversaturation.

Yet, despite the challenges, Siddiqui, 51, remains upbeat.

Admitting that the pandemic “jolted us”, he says the effects of Covid-19 pushed the brand into diversifying faster than planned. “We pivoted from a bricks-and-mortar business to diversified business, which was always what we knew we could do, but it took the pandemic to jolt us on to that track.”

With plans for 25 new Jones The Grocer stores, Siddiqui shares his menu hits and misses, offers advice for young and hungry (pun intended) F&B entrepreneurs, and reveals why he always orders chicken when dining out.

The secret to lasting 25 years is...

To be true to our vision of being passionate and focused.

The effect the pandemic has had on us is...

A bit like a defibrillator. It set us on a path to optimising our business and to reveal the real potential in our multiple revenue streams. Cheese, grocery and delicatessen sales went through the roof, for example.

Guiding an F&B business through the pandemic has taught me...

To be nimble and eliminate bureaucracy because it slows things down.

Our most successful dish has been...

The Jones Wagyu Burger, of course!

With many nods to the brand's Australian heritage on the menu, Siddiqui says the Jones Wagyu Burger is the most popular dish. Courtesy Jones The Grocer

Our least successful dish has been...

A tuna and lemon risoni, which I loved, but, sometimes, what you love never sells.

The one thing I'd go back and tell myself when starting the business is...

Hire more people. We weren’t prepared for the hectic years that followed.

The customer is always...

Right, but only on the face of it. Social channels give everyone a voice, even those who don’t deserve one.

The advice I’d give to up-and-coming F&B entrepreneurs is...

Get the business plan right until you know it by heart. It’s not as easy as it might look.

The Dubai Mall store is the newest addition to the brand's outlets. Courtesy Jones The Grocer

The biggest change I've seen in the F&B industry in the UAE over the years is...

The supply, or shall I say the oversupply, of F&B and the glut of delivery apps. All ripe for consolidation.

As a business owner, my three main responsibilities are...

To live in accordance with our mission, vision and values; to innovate and improve our processes for the benefit of our franchised and company-owned stores; and, this may sound a little obvious, but in these uncertain times to preserve cash and ensure we have enough of it to meet our obligation to every stakeholder.

One of Jones The Grocers' best moments was...

Winning every food award there was to win in our first five years.

The thing I always order on the menu is...

My real test is chicken. It’s kind of hard to get chicken right unless you douse it in something or fry it. So, at the best restaurants, I’ll gravitate towards chicken to see if they’ve figured it out.

When it comes to expanding the brand, I've learnt that...

Attention to detail, hard work and patience are the most critical components.

The worst thing that ever happened to the business was...

A significant hiatus in our growth plans six years ago due to a number of legal matters which were beyond our immediate control.

The main challenges facing the F&B industry moving forward is...

How to stand out in the glut, and the onslaught of digital dining options.

The pandemic led Jones the Grocer to increase its grocery and delicatessen sales. Courtesy Jones The Grocer

One of my biggest business mistakes was...

Trusting someone I should not have.

The success I'm most proud of is...

Being regarded as someone who set the benchmark for casual dining in the UAE way back in 2009.

The dish I cook best is...

Anything I can throw in the oven. I love one-dish cooking. And anything on the barbecue.

My 2021 plans for Jones The Grocer include...

Slow and steady growth, as well as investment in technology to drive our revenue channels.

My business motto is...

Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity.

My life motto is...

Whatever you do, do it the best you can. No half measures.

We will celebrate 25 years in the business by...

Lots of little celebrations through the year, beginning with the launch of a cheese subscription, our very own Jones Cheese Culture Club that delivers exclusive artisan and seasonal cheese to cheese lovers across the UAE.

We have succeeded where others have failed because...

We never compromised on what we set out to do: to be a gourmet grocer, a cheese room and a cafe.

My relationship with failure is...

It happens, there's not much you can do and it always seems worse at the time than it would be down the line.

If I know one thing in life, it's that...

Everything passes and you need to enjoy the moment before it is gone.

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