"Instagram is pushing restaurants to be kitschy, colourful and irresistible to photographers," read a recent story headline on The Verge.
The piece also references unicorn-themed foods, a trend currently sweeping social media that is most definitely "kitschy, colourful and irresistible". Cases in point: unicorn frappucino at Starbucks, DIY unicorn toast recipes on Pinterest and Unicorn Vibes Sweets, a newly launched food spot in Dubai.
The mythical creature is what inspired 26-year-old Dubai resident Nadia Sameer Khalid to launch the UAE's first unicorn-themed food and beverage concept. Located in Business Bay, Unicorn Vibes Sweets is essentially an ice-cream parlour that serves a selection of sugar-coated eats. In recent weeks, these have been the subject of a social-media storm, as Dubai residents have shared images of the shop's quirky interiors and picturesque desserts.
"Tired of being a human? Step in to be a unicorn" are the words displayed on the front door of the shop. A pastel-painted bench, stools and tables are set up in front of the counter, where customers can order ice creams, cookies, cookie-ice-cream-sandwiches, milk shakes and beverages. The menu items are pretty self-explanatory, save for unicorn bark, which is white chocolate topped with food colouring, marshmallows and sprinkles; and unicorn kisses, which are small droplets formed from meringue cookies.
Khalid, who studied civil engineering, took a DIY approach to decorating the sweets shop. "My husband and I did it all – he's also a civil engineer," she says. "We did the ceiling and the walls, the glitter, everything." The ceiling is covered in a grid of three-dimensional candy-coloured squares, and even the ceiling vents have been painted in sorbet shades. The couple also built two wooden swings that hang by a rope from the ceiling. The countertop is decorated with unicorn-shaped plush toys and figurines, a jar that says "100% unicorn water" and glitter-filled Nutella bottles.
Khalid explains that while the unicorn was always a personal childhood favourite, its adult appeal has increased massively over the past year. "We've been seeing the unicorn face all over Instagram and Snapchat," she says, adding that fashion retailers have also begun imbuing unicorn icons onto clothing. Naturally, the white T-shirt that Khalid is wearing when we meet is emblazoned with a pair of sequinned unicorns.
She started putting the concept together in January, and within six months, was open for business.
The ice creams have names such as "He is not worth it" (nutella-flavoured), "Cookie monster" (Oreo-flavoured), and "Unicorn" (cotton candy- and bubblegum- flavoured), and are all produced in-house; the result of months of researching recipes online.
Khalid is thrilled that her concept is making waves on social media, and says that customers are asking her to open a second location – one that's larger and located in central Jumeirah. "Some people, especially kids, are even asking about our mugs and toys," she says, referring to the products that she uses as decor. Once the weather cools down, the entrepreneur plans to take her confections outdoors. "We're considering Global Village, Ripe Market and food trucks," she says.
She's also toying with the idea of launching take-away ice creams. "We're thinking of selling ice-cream pints, and distributing them to markets or other cafes, so you can get our unique flavours, but won't have to come here," she says. Khalid encourages customers to sport unicorn-themed attire when they visit – she's even offering a 50 per cent discount for those who go the full mile and show up in unicorn onesies.
So far, she has not employed a PR agency, nor has she spent any money on advertising. And by the looks of it, she won't need to – at least not yet, while the hype is fresh. "We've been just depending on Instagram," Khalid says.
We're not sure how sustainable the trend is, and what it says about our society that grown adults are getting excited about a mythical creature, but Khalid is capitalising on it in a way that's cool, organic and fun. And we'll certainly be indulging in the odd unicorn kiss.