Dubai-based Bull & Roo has made a name for itself in the city’s bustling hospitality scene by developing urban, cool and out-of-the-box concepts geared towards giving customers a totally different food experience.
Each of the company’s venues is different in food, character and ethos as the group does not believe in the multi-concept model. Bull & Roo currently operates four venues including Tom&Serg in Al Quoz, The Sum of Us in Dubai World Trade Centre area, Common Grounds in Mall of the Emirates (MoE), and Brunswick Sports Club in Sheraton Hotel-MoE, which is also its first licensed property.
Tom Arnel and Sergio Lopez got together almost four years ago to start the hospitality and investment company. Since then, Bull & Roo has added a fresh flavor to the local Dubai foodie scene.
“We met while both working for the same company in the hospitality industry. There was a gap in the market for good, quality casual dining in Dubai, and we believed we could make a mark with our ideas,” said Arnel.
The group currently employs around 220 people – both in store and in its head office. According to Arnel and Lopez, this number is set to double by the end of 2016 as the company set its sights to opening more venues.
Passion for food
Quality, casual dining is something that is imperative to Bull & Roo, said Lopez. “This was something that we felt Dubai lacked, being heavily focused on the five-star dining scene, which is why we saw an opportunity to start our own business and create something cool in Dubai. We aim to empower young talent and inspire the future of culinary entrepreneurship.”
The team’s first outlet, Tom&Serg, opened its doors in the industrial area of Al Quoz in 2013. “We chose this location because of its quirky and industrial feel, much like the café itself,” he added.
It takes two to tango
The duo met at a gourmet food store and cafe in Dubai where Lopez opened and operated the outlet as operations manager while Arnel was the executive chef. They later realized an opportunity to use their combined skills and expertise into developing their own hospitality brand.
“When we first opened Tom&Serg our main objective was to create a café that serves really awesome coffee and good quality food in a beautiful industrial warehouse,” said Arnel. “No gimmicks, nothing forced, we wanted to create a home-away-from-home feel for the people in Dubai.”
The duo explained that although it is a tough and highly competitive industry, they have always aimed to push their boundaries and think outside the box by developing new concepts that give them the opportunity to inject their passion for amazing food and coffee into the city they love.
Being an entrepreneur
“When you own your own business, there is a lot more on the line – as you’re personally invested in its success,” explained Lopez. “It’s something that you’re constantly thinking about therefore it can be hard to switch off and put down the phone. We’re lucky in that we have a really strong team that we can have a weekend away with our families and know that everything is in good hands.”
Arnel also explained that like anywhere else in the world, the market in the UAE has its peaks and troughs – some restaurants and cafes succeed, and some don’t. “Dubai is becoming a culinary hub, inevitably, this means that competition is fierce, and we need to stay consistently ahead of the curve in terms of our offering.”
What sets the company apart, Arnel believes, is the fact that it is all about unique concepts. “We believe that Tom&Serg, The Sum of Us and Common Grounds provide the people of Dubai with an experience that is not common in Dubai. From our dynamic, flavorful food, to our charismatic staff and the thoughtful atmospheric interiors of each venue, our offering is unique and our customer base broad.”
Let’s welcome competition
Lopez is convinced that competition in business is not a bad thing. “A competitive market is one where both a commitment to best practice and innovation flourish,” he said, adding that having a solid business plan is crucial in the success of an outlet. “We are firm believers in never diluting the ethos of a concept if or when ‘the going gets tough’ or to recuperate high fit-out or rent costs. Yes, remain flexible and tailor the offering to the needs of the customer base and improve the service offerings, but see through the vision and balance the initial investment wisely from the get-go.”
On the innovation front, Lopez added, it’s important to bring something fresh and different – and offer an experience rather than simply ‘a meal’ or ‘a drink’.
“To achieve this, we put ourselves in the shoes of our diners first and foremost, and aim to offer food we know we want to eat ourselves and create concepts that we know we would want to hang out in,” he said.
Arnel also explained the importance of selecting locations for their venues, giving birth to hospitality concepts that customers wouldn’t necessarily expect: accessible, super cool, very urban, cosmopolitan, with an edge, and uniquely positioned throughout Dubai.
“Success for us is in the team that we’ve created and the loyal customer base we have built,” Arnel said proudly. “We are lucky enough to have a team of really talented, passionate, epic people at Bull & Roo, and they have made the company what it is. We pride ourselves on our people and consider our employees our most valuable asset. We’re grateful for our loyal customers, too, who have supported us in our ventures and continue to come and enjoy our food.”
His advice to entrepreneurs eyeing a slice of the Dubai hospitality pie: “Find something that you are passionate about and surround yourselves with talented people who share your passion.”