Qatar has one of the fastest growing economies in the Gulf and many of its most innovative companies are based in the business district.
And with an estimated 1.5 million football fans heading to Qatar for the World Cup in November, there are plenty of savvy companies keen to show foreign visitors what the country has to offer.
A culinary experience for the whole family
How many times have we all found ourselves in a food court in a mall trying to choose a place to eat? Well, there’s an app for that now.
West Bay’s Tornado Tower houses a Virtual Food Hall where you can browse multiple restaurant menus and pay in one transaction.
It’s called AND Experience and it’s no ordinary lunch spot – it’s more like ten restaurants in one.
Ali Nasser Al-Saadi is its creator.
“A virtual hybrid food hall is basically a place where we have different brands under one roof, where a customer can come in and order from different kitchens in the same transaction,” he explains.
Think of a food court. Mom wants pizza, dad wants salad and the kids want pasta. The difference is that all brands here at AND Experience are owned by Ali Nasser Al-Saadi.
The adventure began in 2015 with mini-pancakes in The Pearl Zone, a family-friendly neighborhood built on artificial islands north of Doha.
Al-Saadi said it took about a month for the news to spread, but once it did, it wasn’t long before he was making 2,000 mini-pancakes every 10 minutes.
“That was something completely new in Doha,” he recalls. “Having a Qatari concept, especially running the business and being on the ground. So I flipped pancakes and was a cashier and everything. And it has evolved.”
This success led him to open an AND café. Then the pandemic struck. Al-Saadi was tied to a five-year lease and needed a plan. That’s when he came up with the idea of converting his café into a central kitchen. AND Café literally transformed into a new dining experience or “AND Experience”.
“Well, we’re having breakfast,” Al-Saadi says while leading us through. “We’ve got your coffee, your pasta, your sliders, your wings, and we’ve got other people empowered too – business people, where we’ve got West African cuisine. So we took brands that people want to open and we help them grow those brands by offering them a place, a kitchen, a chef and the right tools to grow their business.”
In most kitchens, a chef must master a menu. But here there are ten different menus for the team to prepare – from salads and burgers to Italian and Senegalese cuisine.
Food bloggers put the AND experience to the test
Dionne Lobo and Ian Marks started their food blog five years ago. The couple regularly visit new restaurants in Doha – and put them to the test.
“When we came to Doha, social media wasn’t that big of a deal,” says Dionne. “Over time, people around the world have responded more to food bloggers because they’re more likeable and relatable rather than critical.”
So we invited Dionne and Ian to try the AND Experience. Your verdict:
“You can’t go wrong with butter chicken,” says Ian. “Butter Chicken was amazing.”
“The potatoes were nice,” says Dionne. “Very different, not your usual potatoes.”
“They were very sweet,” adds Ian. “It was perfect. You saw my mouth drooling?”
Al-Saadi believes his success is part of a broader trend.
“I think people started straying from the international franchises and chains to have the power to learn from other people and do similar things in a better way,” he says.
Al-Saadi hopes to go cashless early in the new year and is also developing an app that will allow you to place your order, get a table number and have your food delivered as soon as you arrive.
Not bad for a business that started out as a small pancake kiosk a few years ago.
A vegan business empire
How do you build a vegan business empire? Well, there is one man in Qatar who knows better than most – Ghanim al Sulaiti. The young founder of Enbat Holdings has launched seven successful vegan businesses – from restaurants to skin care products.
“I don’t have a business background,” he says. “I had to learn everything from the beginning. I had to kind of dive into the process. So the beginning was very exciting. We tried to create a space that can inspire people, that can revolutionize the way people in Qatar eat because we felt that the people of Qatar were unaware of our eating habits and how food actually is affects our health. Six years later, it is no longer a small company. I mean we’re talking 13 food and beverage locations. We are talking about two fully functional spas. We are talking about 250 employees and team members. I always tell people that Doha is now going to be the most vegan-friendly city in the world. I compare it to New York and LA and London and Paris because there are 13 locations with vegan restaurants across the city.”
Ghanim believes veganism is more than just a diet.
“Veganism is a lifestyle and that’s why I call it a movement because it doesn’t just stop at food,” he says. “It goes beyond that. It goes to the farms. It’s about the way we treat animals, the way we dress every day. So I think being vegan means being the best version of yourself in the current global situation.”
One of Ghanim’s locations is Evergreen Organics in Gate Mall. It combines a shop integrated into a restaurant.
“So the idea here was to create a sanctuary for people walking through the mall, surrounded by plants and greenery,” he says. “Evergreen is an all-day dining experience. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have about 70 items on the menu I would say. But at the same time we have a nice supermarket. The idea is to encourage people to buy local because we have a lot of local produce and we work with local businesses and farms to offer really good food.”
Also in Gate Mall is Mylk, a vegan ice cream and chocolate shop.
“We tried to make it reflect the beauty of Scandinavian design,” says Ghanim. “But at the same time making sure it reflects simplicity and allows people to enjoy a different kind of space when it comes to veganism and it doesn’t look like a vegan place. But for us that’s kind of the goal behind the concept.”
There is a whole range of services: Green & Go for quick access, Evergreen, where you can take your time, and Mylk for sweet treats that are still healthy.
“It’s an ecosystem of companies, so each company complements the other,” says Ghanim. “Green & Go is for people who travel a lot. In the Metro, Evergreen is more like a weekend chilldown. Mylk is more if you feel like you have a sweet tooth and want to satisfy any type of craving. So each concept type of feed is in the right place for the right audience.”
Preparing for the World Cup legacy
With an estimated 1.5 million football fans heading to Qatar for the World Cup in November, there are plenty of opportunities for savvy businesses to capitalize on foreign visitors keen to experience what the country has to offer.
Back in 2015, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – the organization in charge of planning Qatar 2022 – issued an open call for companies to develop projects that could eventually play their part in the FIFA World Cup. This initiative was called Challenge 22.
“We wanted to inspire people using the FIFA World Cup and let their products and services be part of the whole journey and the actual tournament itself,” says Ahsan Mansoor, Director of Fan Engagement and Ambassador to the Supreme Committee. “We also hope that mega-events will continue to be viewed as an inspiration for innovation.”
Twelve regional companies were eventually announced as winners, including SunPave. The idea, co-founded by engineer Mohammad Al Gammal, is quite unusual: solar panels you can walk on.
“What’s unique about our products is that they offer the freedom to install solar panels without impeding or interfering with the use of space,” he says. “So you don’t have to install frames and put the normal panels on top and mess up the landscape and the architecture of the places. Instead, you just use them as pavers and your space is still usable.”
As part of the Challenge 22 legacy, Al Thumama Stadium will have SunPave solar panels installed in a dedicated area outside the stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup.
“For the time of the World Cup, the stadium management has decided that some of this energy will be used to power an electronic charging area where people can sit down to relax a bit and maybe charge their devices,” says Mohammad.
An experience market
Another project planned by Challenge 22 to serve visitors in a different way is the tourist app ViaVii. Originally founded in Lebanon, it offers visitors a one-stop shop to access various local highlights.
“It’s an experiential marketplace platform where curators can list their experiences online,” says Faiha Sahirah, director of operations at ViaVii.
“We connect those who are looking for new things, want to find unique and adventurous things you can’t find anywhere else, and meet someone who can provide these services for them.”
Local artist Rima Abuharb was approached last year to collaborate with ViaVii.
“For the FIFA visitors,” says Rima. “I will be doing more workshops for them to create their own designs from within their minds. Because I feel like what I aspire to and all I do is I want people to explore their imaginations.”
The company works with curators who aren’t easily found through Google, like Mohammed Al Sulaiti, whose boat tours work entirely through word of mouth, or a local farm that offers family outings.
With just weeks until the start of the world’s greatest sporting event and millions of eyes on Qatar, all Challenge 22 winners are hoping their companies are filling a market need that will linger long after the tournament is over.
And for a breathtaking view of the CBD, what better place than the JW Mariott Hotel’s helipad.