Tom & Serg kicks off a new trend in Dubai’s coffee and cafe culture

The guys behind Tom & Serg, Dubai's favourite new trendy cafe, are on a mission to change the way the UAE does coffee.

Tom Arnel and Sergio Lopez, owner of Tom & Serg cafe at Al Joud Center in Al Quoz area in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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Tom Arnel and Sergio Lopez, the owners of the trendy Tom & Serg cafe in Dubai, are complete opposites.

Where Lopez is fiery and passionate, Arnel is laid-back. When asked if they ever fight, the two laugh. Arnel says: “We haven’t had a fist fight yet but I’m expecting, at some point, it may happen.”

It’s clear there’s an element of truth to the statement when Lopez justifies it by saying: “But that is healthy for the business. You need to have that passion and that fight once in a while to bring out new ideas.”

When those new ideas result in a cafe as successful as Tom & Serg, it doesn’t matter how they got there. All that matters is they got it right. Arnel and Lopez are determined to change the way that Dubai does coffee, and it might very well be the next big thing in Dubai.

The two met while working at Jones the Grocer in Abu Dhabi. Arnel was the executive chef, Lopez was an operations manager and they both wanted to venture off on their own. They started talking about what was missing in the UAE.

Arnel says: “There’s a real imbalance in what the food and beverage offering is in the whole UAE. They’ve provided for the high-end sort of glamorous dining scene. But I don’t think the general consumer really wants that.”

Arnel and Lopez wanted to create a casual cafe with great coffee, great food and great atmosphere, and opened Tom & Serg in a warehouse in Al Quoz. The two-level cafe is gritty and industrial, but still inviting and warm. It’s the kind of cool that appears ­effortless.

“We knew it had to be something completely different,” says Arnel. “It had to be something that was against the grain or else I didn’t feel like anyone would really care what we did. The location had to make a statement.”

So did the food and the coffee. Arnel, who is trained as a fine-dining chef, creates all of the cafe’s dishes. The coffee is organic and well-trained baristas serve it in a variety of ways. “We wanted to make sure that we had the right balance between good coffee, good food, nutritious food, gourmet food and affordable food,” says Arnel. Most meals are priced between Dh35 and Dh60.

But Lopez, who comes from Spain, says: “It’s not only about coffee or food; you enter here and you feel you’re a little bit closer to home. That was really important to us. It’s just about people wanting to have a nice experience, a good coffee and a simple, good meal.”

Arnel’s Australian background is what inspired the idea behind Tom & Serg. To put it simply, Australians are proud of their coffee. There are often several cafes – each serving different coffees in different environments – all on the same block. Arnel and Lopez want to create that same, vibrant coffee scene here.

“We want to build a coffee and cafe culture in Dubai and the UAE,” says Arnel. “That’s where we see our niche. We want to keep the experience [at Tom & Serg] as a niche thing. We want the experience only to be found in one place.”

Arnel and Lopez are adamant there will never be another Tom & Serg in the country. To change the UAE’s coffee scene, they’ll have to do it one unique cafe at a time.

“We want to create more cafes – different names, different concepts, but in the same genre,” says Arnel. “They will all be trendy, casual and affordable.” The duo has already proven they can resist the temptation to franchise. Within two months of opening last November, they had rejected more than 40 offers.

“The success of this place is based on being different than what normally happens in Dubai,” says Arnel, “If we started agreeing to take on these proposals, then we’re just selling out on the idea that we started with – the idea that made us successful.”

Arnel and Lopez are currently putting the finishing touches on their next cafe called The Sum of Us. It’s set to open in Dubai at the end of the year.

Tom & Serg is in Al Quoz off Sheikh Zayed Road. Open daily from 8am to 4pm and until 5pm on weekends. Call 056 474 6812 or visit

Trendsetters is Arts&Life’s eight-part summer series profiling UAE innovators excelling in their fields