Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Emirati entrepreneurs take slice out of organic food pie

"They are not only my work colleagues, but family," Ameenah Taher said about her business partners Khalid Al Ameri, Hamad Al Hammadi and Faisal Al Hammadi.

It all began more than a year ago when the four decided to start a project of their own.
A children's spa, interactive photography studio and cultural gift shop were all parts of the brainstorming sessions, which were concluded with "food touches everyone".
"We didn't want to have just another franchise," Ameenah, 28, said.
"We wanted to have a unique Emirati initiative that could later go international and at the same time we wanted to introduce and promote more healthy eating."

It was then that Slices — an organic, all-healthy food station that serves fresh bagels, fruit, salads, soups and sandwiches — started coming to life.
"The first thing we did was search for a space, and were lucky to find a very strategic location in an active business area in Abu Dhabi, which means that our regular customers will be employees of surrounding companies and offices," said Faisal, 26.
The next step was to get funding, which was provided to the entrepreneurs a month after pitching the idea to the Khalifa Fund, in addition to operational support and encouragement through coverage at various events.
Sourcing product
However, it's never easy starting up a business. "Sourcing organic food — poultry, fruit and vegetables — from local farms was a challenge in the beginning," Ameenah said.
"It also took a lot of research to find the right organic juices and canned organic certified foods that we sourced from Australia and the US."
The group's approach was to divide and conquer. Each member took responsibility for what they were good at.
Hamad, 27, worked on financials, Faisal monitored the food, Khaled, 28, managed logistics and Ameenah was in charge of communications and marketing.
Other than it being the only organic station of its kind in Abu Dhabi, what makes Slices unique is not only the quality of food, but its warm environment and hospitality.
"We hired a contractor, a human resource consultant and a designer, and we focused on establishing a fun, bold and witty brand that creates a unique customer experience right from the start," Ameenah added.
The four owners have extended the project from being a typical restaurant to a community initiative. Since the food only stays on the shelf for one day, anything fresh and good to eat which hasn't been sold at the end of each day goes to construction workers and charities.
The owners also regularly go to New York University Abu Dhabi to speak to students about healthy eating and well-being, and are working on internship programmes at Slices for students who are majoring in nutrition from Abu Dhabi universities.
They are already getting requests from customers to expand and open branches in Dubai and other emirates.

Follow them on twitter @SlicesAe