The Dubai audiophile community has been growing in numbers and stature in recent times, and with the launch of Honeycomb Hi-Fi, they may finally find a home away from home.
Located at the Pullman Hotel in Business Bay, Honeycomb Hi-Fi brings to life a legitimate record store, a High-Fidelity sound system, warm and minimal interiors designed for quality acoustics, and an izakaya kitchen to round out their vision. It is the first listening bar to open in the Middle East.
In the following interviews with Varun Khemaney and Khalil Dahmash, Co-founders and Managing Partners, Economy Middle East .discusses the strategy behind the concept, growth pros[ects and trends in the hospitality sector, among others.
We asked Varun Khemaney:
Honeycomb Hi-Fi is the first listening bar in the Middle East. What was the strategy behind this concept, what innovations did you introduce, and why launch in Dubai?
Our strategy for developing Honeycomb Hi-Fi, the first listening bar in the Middle East, was inspired by Jazz Kissa bars in Japan. We were immediately drawn in by the idea of listening to music in its purest form on high-fidelity speakers. While we recognize the growing popularity of listening bars around the world, we saw a tangible gap for us to fill in the region. This encouraged us to introduce this concept in Dubai, which has a creative community with a devoted love for music that is continuously ever-growing. To ensure our concept was deployed correctly and to enhance the overall experience, we introduced a traditional Izakaya F&B menu that provided an additional layer of authenticity to the concept. We carefully designed an experience that was inclusive of dishes perfect for sharing, along with classic cocktails and highballs for visitors to enjoy. Understanding the relationship and commonality between music and food – and how it brings people together – was our focal aim to provide a harmonious experience for visitors to Honeycomb Hi-Fi.
After launching your first venue, can you describe your growth journey based on what you learned from your USP and the competition?
When launching a new concept or establishing a venue, it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition and to stay true to the uniqueness of your proposition. For us, that meant focusing on the quality of the listening experience and ensuring that the sound quality was second to none. We also focused our efforts on providing an elevated food and beverage offering that complemented the listening experience and elevated the overall atmosphere of the venue.
Since launching, we have concentrated on listening to our customers and adapting to their needs. We’ve witnessed a surge in popularity credited to the events we host, which include rosters that boast international DJs – a big draw for our customers. It is then that we realized how big the demand was for unique experiences that were carefully catered to music and art aficionados in Dubai. We stayed true to our core concept of offering customers the purest form of music on high-fidelity speakers for them to enjoy and created a space where customers were able to connect with the music in an immersive way. This was exactly what helped us differentiate ourselves from our competition and cultivate a loyal following.
Another important milestone in our journey towards growth was our Marketing strategy. Our focus was to develop a strong brand identity and follow that by establishing and building a loyal following on social media, which inevitably helped us reach a wider audience and attract new customers. We are very excited to continue growing through establishing a community-like following for our brand and to maintain bringing unique experiences to our customers in Dubai.
Based on your experience, what major changes took place in the F&B industry without which new entrants cannot succeed?
One of the most significant changes in the F&B industry is the growing reliance on technology and the importance of having a digital presence. With the surge in food delivery applications and the ability to make orders online, having a strong digital presence has become a necessity for any new entrant. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a shift towards contactless solutions – some of which include QR code menus and touchless payment options.
Another key change was the increasing demand for sustainable and ethically-sourced ingredients, as well as more diverse and varied menus. New entrants need to pay close attention to how the world is changing, and how these changes are affecting existing and prospective customers. Tried and true methods are remnants of the past, and innovation has now become part of the F&B industry’s vernacular. New entrants will need to strongly embrace creating unique and memorable experiences for their customers through a revolutionized cuisine, creative drink menus, and an immersive atmosphere.
As for Khalil Dahmash, we asked:
What are some of your biggest learning experiences in running a successful hospitality business, especially in terms of concept, funding, marketing, and chefs?
Along my 7-year journey in the F&B industry, which is furnished with the running of three successful venues, I’ve encountered that deploying a 360-degree approach is essential when it comes to establishing a new restaurant. That’s because every element of the venue (and business) is critical – from the concept, funding, marketing, and – of course – hiring the right Chef. Needless to say that with such a fierce number of competitors in the market, it’s necessary to strive for excellence in all aspects of the business to succeed.
A key learning factor when developing a concept for a new restaurant was fully understanding the market, identifying the niche, and differentiating the venue with a unique proposition. In terms of funding, it was necessary to ensure that due diligence was employed so that we were able to fully understand the costs and ensure there was proper funding for our businesses. It was personally important for me to avoid starting on a backfoot, as it can create problems in the future that can potentially spiral out of control.
Promotion and marketing are also crucial to ensuring success and separating a business from its competitive counterparts in the industry – hiring the right Chef is another. Each factor lends itself quite well to the venue’s success, as promoting your restaurant’s unique selling point to the right audiences increases popularity and footfall by extension. Alongside that is bringing the right kind of Chef on board – someone who can deliver high-quality dishes – who can adapt to and understand customers’ needs, which is part and parcel of success.
What made you diversify from a Commerce space into the F&B industry? And how has your financial experience helped you in developing your F&B career?
My professional journey began with Deloitte Corporate Finance, and I was a member of the valuation and Financial team. During my time there, I was exposed to several different industries and had worked extensively across the F&B industry. Such exposure provided me with valuable insight into evaluating businesses and understanding the different key performance indicators (KPIs) and industry benchmarks.
Notwithstanding this sort of exposure, I had always envisioned myself an entrepreneur and enjoyed entertaining the idea of doing my own thing. I have a deep-rooted passion for socializing and being around people, and the F&B industry was a natural fit for me. When I first met Varun a few years back – who was already well-experienced in the industry – it was the perfect opportunity for me to merge my Finance background and experience with his F&B background and experience, and this is how VKD Hospitality came to be.
What are some of the challenges in introducing a brand-new concept that are particular to Dubai? What are 3 keys to attracting but also retaining clientele to a new concept?
Introducing any new concept in Dubai can prove to be challenging, especially when it comes to adapting such a concept to fit and align with the local market, as it’s extremely rare for a concept to be implemented seamlessly without any adjustments. This is why familiarizing yourself with the specific needs of your customers is vital, to ensure that their needs are met by your concept at your venture.
Another key challenge is to find the right location. New brands without an established track record tend to struggle with finding and securing prime locations and spaces, and this has a direct impact on foot traffic and visibility.
Alongside location is staffing. As a hurdle of sorts when introducing a new concept, it’s imperative to recruit a team with varied backgrounds and skill sets, as they set the tone within and across the establishment. Finding the right people who can execute a concept correctly and effectively can be a challenge.
In my experience, with regards to attracting and retaining clientele, there are 3 key steps to success. It begins with hiring a great team and providing excellent service. As the representatives of the brand, staff are key to creating a loyal customer base. Next is offering exceptional food and beverage options, as quality ingredients, innovative dishes and unique drinks help set businesses apart from their competitors. Finally, understanding target audience preferences and catering to their needs makes a big difference. Tailoring a business’s concept and/or offering to target audiences, while also creating a unique and memorable experience is the end-all-and-be-all of attracting and retaining customers.
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