FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

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By Sindhu Nair

A new generation of entrepreneurs is evolving in Doha; the kind that makes brands and stands by them, and takes ownership of its dreams.

With the wind beneath their wings and passion unbridled, this new generation of businessmen comes with a sense of proprietorship and become the names behind the brands they build.

Nasser A. Al Zeyara

Qatar Today met one such proud entrepreneurs; Nasser A. Al Zeyara, a government employee by day and a restaurant owner by night. In addition to his time-consuming occupations, which he is equally dedicated to, Nasser also teaches at the Police College (Qatar), Ahmed Bin Mohammed Military College (Qatar), and the Qatar Mandatory National Service Training. Ask the proud owner of Arnag, artisanal bistro at Souq Wakrah, why he chose to venture into the restaurant business and Nasser says, quite unpretentiously, “Because I am a food lover.” And no other reason can do as much justice as this simple love for the enterprise you are going to jump-start.

As an entrepreneur, one criterion of a self-starter was to devote all the resources to the new business. Nasser disagrees: it is always better not to put all the eggs in one basket.

“Having a job to fall back on gives the entrepreneur more confidence to pursue his dreams because then he is sure that his financials are not entirely dependent on the success of his venture.”

“Having a job to fall back on gives the entrepreneur more confidence to pursue his dreams because then he is sure that his financials are not entirely dependent on the success of his venture. The fact that I have another job makes me less anxious to risk everything. Having three partners also makes it easier to balance the role plays.”

At some point in time, the two roles, of being a government employee and a self-starter, gets rather demanding as both require equal amounts of commitment and hard work. “But finally, it is a matter of balance and giving priority to whichever job needs your attention at that point in time. Being a government employee is also an important part of my life and I do not shy away from any of its commitments, as that is my first priority,” says Nasser.

While this does get stressful at times, Nasser thrives on pressure and uses that energy to push himself further.

HEC has also taken a major lead in directing Nasser towards the path of his dreams through the business entrepreneurship course that he completed at the HEC Paris branch campus in Qatar.

“I had no background in business. HEC helped me through the different cycles involved from getting the right team, to selling ideas and to making an excellent business model,” he says. While Nasser has not taken any help for funding his dreams, he still went through some difficulties in setting the ball rolling. “It was all about finding the right business process involved and then it was much easier,” says Nasser. “The process gets much easier once you know the different rules and categories. It takes a while to understand the rules in Qatar. Getting the right information from the right people has always been difficult in Qatar and once we scaled that then it was an easier struggle.”

For Nasser, the procedure was difficult as the three partners wanted to know all the paperwork and processes involved. “We went through all the process ourselves. We wanted to get the feel of the business, from the difficulties to the euphoria of setting up a business of our own.”

Arnag has taken a difficult route, staying away from the much-sought after location of Qatar’s West Bay, and Nasser’s reasons are pragmatic. He says that the rents were much higher and hence they had to opt for a new location, which was slowly gaining popularity.

“We also wanted a larger area to go with the concept of a Qatari house and that is almost impossible to acquire in The Pearl-Qatar or any other location.”

The beauty of food

Nasser’s love for food is shared by his partners and that is another major game changer in his business. “My business partners were equally in love with food. One of my partners is a Qatari chef who was already popular among the locals and he is our social media influencer. He experiments with food and then puts up the recipes on social media and his Instagram posts are hugely popular.”

Known to the social world as @jboor_a, Nasser’s partner wants to be known by his social persona but he comes with a mission to make the world taste good, one recipe at a time. Ask Nasser about Arnag, the restaurant, and the excitement in his expression is palpable.

“Our restaurant is an amalgamation of all the best tastes from around the world while adding a new angle to it through experimentation.”

“Our restaurant is an amalgamation of all the best tastes from around the world while adding a new angle to it through experimentation. The recipes are all in house, tried and tested by Jabor and shared on social media.”

To understand the variety and the dynamism in the recipes, Nasser gives us one variant that is being served at Arnag. The créme brûlée, a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel, is recreated with a new constituent, Sago, which takes the same dish to don an entirely new avatar at Arnag.

Arnag serves the norm with panache: date puddings that enhances Arabic flavours, cakes with salted caramel, to give them a rush of flavours.

“We also have Japanese cheese cakes, and tiramisu, all of which are our bestsellers.” Arnag, which translates as colours, essentially is about visiting a house of flavours, reviving memories of your mother’s kitchen, teasing memories while retaining elements of surprise and mystery.

The restaurant is located at Souq Wakrah and models around a Qatari house with a small patio close to the entrance, moving on to the library, “with books that have been collected from antique shops”, a kitchen which smells of brewed coffee and attracts people to enter its cozy surroundings and indulge in hot treats.

The patio also opens to a lounge close to the entrance and this is where the  owner, passionate foodies themselves, entertain; this room is always teeming with enthusiastic food tasters as Arnag is slowly introducing its main course or savory menu after the successful stint with the dessert menu. “We take time over the menu as everything has to be tasted and tested to get the best results. We use the best quality ingredients and make all recipes in-house to enhance natural flavours,” says Nasser.

Less than a year since the opening, Nasser says that Arnag has a good reputation which is enhanced by Jabor’s popularity.

“New ideas in food and beverages are being introduced and that is a huge step for the country as I felt that we have not really expanded in this segment as much as other Middle-Eastern countries and now we are making waves with innovative brands that are being created locally.”