An interview with Said Mashhud, Co-Founder of the Victorian Restaurant & Cafe in Dubai
What is the best meal you’ve had at The Victorian?
I like all the food. It’s my restaurant. Everything is my favorite. But I like the Rib Rye Steak the most.
As they say, Afghans can’t live without meat!
Yes. If we don’t have meat in our meal, it’s like we haven’t eaten at all.
You get to eat international cuisine at The Victorian. Where do you eat Afghan food?What’s your fav?
Nothing beats my mother’s homemade food. My favorite is Qabili Palaw.
How often do you eat at your own restaurant?
Very often. 2 times a day. Sometimes, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It depends. But I am there most evenings.
Describe The Victorian in 3 words.
A romantic, luxurious experience.
You are doing very well in Dubai’s competitive restaurant market. What is The Victorian’s secret?
The Victorian isn’t just a place to come and eat. It’s a romantic, luxurious experience. With two years of hard work, huge investment, & a lot of teamwork, we managed to finally get it right. We attribute our progress to:
The Design: The colors, furniture, paintings, and the chandeliers have been cherry picked to resemble the Victorian Era’s luxurious class.
The Food: We focus on giving our guests a special dining experience with every table having its own dedicated butler. Our talented chefs complement the experience with delicious & exquisite international, Arab and oriental dishes.
The Service: We have designed The Victorian as a full package of services. People can come to eat food, have coffee or beverages, or smoke shisha. We give our guests a choice.
The Location: The Victorian is located in a completely new area, City Walk Boulevard Dubai!
We have both inside and outside sitting areas with the capacity of accommodating up to 200 guests at a time.
City Walk of Dubai hasn’t officially opened yet, but people are getting familiar to The Victorian. We already have our permanent customers who visit over and over again.
Why The Victorian? [Why not Bamyan or Kandahar Restaurant? You know how we Afghans name our companies.]
Our vision from the very first day was to start a franchisable business. We thought an Afghan restaurant would limit our customer base. The Victorian is a British concept, so Arabs & tourists can come to a restaurant in Dubai and have the same experience of being in Oxford Street or Kensington in London.
What inspired you to open a restaurant? Do you like cooking?
No, I don’t like cooking. As a businessman, I always invest in ventures that will have the highest return on investment even if it takes a lot of time. Unlike many other sectors, the restaurant business has very good RoI. But it requires a lot of time for it to find a place in the market.
How did you know you’ll do well in a restaurant?
I am a foodie person! I eat at different restaurants all the time, so I see what works and what doesn’t.
There are three main businesses that people always need: Food & Beverages, Clothing, and Cosmetology. Regardless of economic situations, people always eat and take their families out. If you offer good food, good service, and a nice location, you will always have your customers.
Tell us more about yourself.
I think I have a good heart – I’m kind and humble, I can’t hate, hurt, or hold grudges. You know if someone is mad at me even for one day, I can’t fall asleep; no matter who that person is, even if he or she is a hi-hello friend!
I am fair in business too. I am not someone who can con or cheat people. For me it would be beneficial to have alcohol in my restaurant, but I chose non-alcoholic drinks because I cannot harm people or make money in the wrong way. I have strong beliefs as a Muslim.
My message to Afghans around the world: We like Afghanistan. We belong there. We like the food a lot. But we are global citizens now. In business, we can compete beyond the borders of one or two countries.Said Mashhud –
Why invest in Dubai and not in Afghanistan?
Our main business is in Afghanistan in which we work with the government. We want to grow and diversify our portfolio, so we started a business here in Dubai. If Afghanistan was safe for my family, I wouldn’t have been here. But we do plan to invest more there.
Do you think you will potentially take The Victorian to Afghanistan?
It is something I am thinking of but not in the near future. The Victorian won’t be much appreciated there. For now, I am planning to open a different restaurant in Afghanistan that Afghans will want and love. We are already thinking about the name and the concept is already decided. It is going to be in a prime location in Kabul.
How many employees work at The Victorian?
26. The labor law in Dubai doesn’t allow employees to work more than 9 hours and since The Victorian runs from morning to midnight, we have two shifts.
Tell us about your Chefs? Are they Arabs?
Our Head Chef is Austrian. Our other chefs come from different countries such as Bangladesh, Philippines, etc. Unfortunately, we don’t have Afghans on our team as of yet.
Has word of mouth played a role in your popularity?
Yes, but it’s not only about word of mouth anymore. It’s about the word of media. One post, one click and everyone knows what happened here. So we make sure that every customer leaves happily.
Do you consider yourself as a zero to hero?
No. Everything I am today is because of my father. He is my hero and role model. When I was young, he would take me to his meetings where I grew up learning the nits & bits of a business from an early age. When he passed away I was only 18 years old, but we have managed to continue his legacy and make it even bigger so he can be of proud us.
What keeps you going?
I believe we aren’t just born to pay bills and die. What I live for is to change a life and leave a positive impact in the world, which I am doing through creating jobs.
What are your 3 tips for young entrepreneurs?
1) Be yourself. Don’t copy. You can get inspiration from others, but don’t do the same exact thing.
2) See what the market demands.
3) Work on tech-based businesses if you want to grow. It’s all about technology nowadays.
If not a businessman, what other career would you choose?
Politician. I still want to be one. Perhaps 10 years down the road.
What are you planning for The Victorian in the next five years?
We are planning a couple of franchises. We have already been approached by big developers who are willing to give us a prime location, such as Dubai Mall. In Dubai, it’s next to impossible to get a location from Emar as a newly established business. We had to play it smartly.
If you could start another business, would it be in the food or another industry?
We’ve already started another business. We provide a one-stop shop for facility maintenance services.
You know growing a business is like raising a child. You start small. It takes one year, two years, and then the child will start taking care of itself. That’s when you can focus on something else like starting another business. But sky is the limit. Who knows what we will do next.
What are some of the challenges of running a restaurant?
The beginning is always difficult. In restaurant business, the most difficult part is to keep the customers coming and happy. Every single bit of the restaurant adds to your customers’ experience. Everything must be perfect. Getting this right takes years and we are pleased to have built a happy customer base.
Another challenge is that dealing with the government is not easy. There are many strict regulations and restrictions in Dubai because as a touristic city, quality is a top priority in everything. To change anything in the restaurant I have to get permission. For example, we aren’t allowed to play light music outside of our restaurant because it is a residential place.
What would be your advice to young Afghans around the world?
Do your business everywhere in the world. But remember to also invest in your own country. If not now, keep in mind that investing in Afghanistan is rewarding & impactful.
Any message to the readers of Business DNA?
Your readers, who come to The Victorian with their copies of Business DNA, will get a discount, complimentary drinks, and great food. Most importantly, we will give them The Victorian luxurious experience!
It’s all about word of media now. One click, one post, and everyone knows what happens.Said Mashhud