Cooking with a Manicure



Interview with Namir Hourani from Just Salad

Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant business?

Food is a big part of our culture in the UAE and the Middle East, and F&B has always been something that I have wanted to get into. It’s always evolving, changing; it has an exciting buzz to it.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get your start?

I started my career at an advertising agency before joining Procter & Gamble as an assistant brand manager. Brand Management really exposes you to all elements of running a business. You’re exposed to logistics, distribution, marketing, finance, so it really was a great stepping-stone for me. I always had an itch to want to go out there on my own and join the entrepreneurial world. I did not want to settle for working for someone else, and one day I decided this was it, I quit my job at P&G, and found myself clueless as to what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to set up my own business, but I had no clue what that was. I read endless articles about how to set up your own business, articles about interesting startups in the west, and all this just inspired me. One day, as I was doing my research, I stumbled upon a cool advertising product called Flogos, flew out to Alabama and came back to Dubai as the exclusive distributor of Flogos for the UAE. This was my first self-employed venture, it kept me busy, but it was still not what I wanted to do. My research continued until one day I received an email from a dog grooming company based in Dubai called Shampooch.They were looking to raise capital to expand what was back then a small mom n pop business and decided to turn to their clients. I jumped at the opportunity and set up an investment company with my brothers under the name Marj Investments. Through Marj Investments, we started investing in multiple businesses over the years, and currently have an exciting portfolio in multiple different industries such as childcare and education, healthcare, maintenance, F&B, as well as some exciting tech companies.

How and why did you decide to open Just Salad?
My role at Marj Investments was to scope out interesting companies we could potentially add to our portfolio. I personally always wanted to get into the F&B industry, but nothing really stood out. One day, while I was on holiday in New York I saw a Just Salad. What caught my attention was the line up in front of the store. And for a change, I was surprised that this line up wasn’t for cupcakes or some other dessert item. I was intrigued, walked into the store and my first thought was – this is what we need in Dubai.

What has been your greatest professional success and biggest setback?

My biggest success is probably the fact that I enjoy what I do and love every aspect of it. It’s been rocky at times, but this is the price you pay when you decide to go out there on your own.

As a restaurant owner, how important is it to have actual experience in every aspect of the business?

Very important. My operations manager and I spent 4 weeks at Just Salad in NY, serving customers, chopping and washing vegetables, making salad dressings. We got exposed to every part of the business you can possibly imagine. Our days started at 5:30am and would not end until 8 or 9pm.

What advice can you give to those who would like to open a restaurant of their own someday?

It’s tough, it’s a lot of little details but if your heart is in it, then go for it. Of all the businesses I have been involved in, setting up Just Salad has been the most challenging but also the most fun.

How difficult or expensive is it to be a green fast food restaurant?

It’s definitely challenging. Vegetables are extremely perishable items, this means that if they’re not consumed within 2 to 3 days, they go to waste. Vegetables are also very seasonal items, which means you never know where and if you’re going to find all your ingredients and menu items all the time.

Did you grow up in an environment that was closely intertwined with the culinary world? It would be great if you could talk about your childhood, perhaps a memory with cuisine?

My mother is an avid and extremely passionate cook, which is a good thing, considering she had to feed 5 men every day! As far back as I can remember my mother was always experimenting with food, researching the latest ingredients. And now with the internet and constant travel, she really is always on the hunt for new things. Around the lunch table is when our mother would “discreetly” ask my brothers and I about our day, school, and love lives. The lunch table was where we bonded the most as a family. My wife is also extremely health conscious and an excellent cook. I didn’t know that before we got married. At least she knows it’s true love that lured me in, and not her expertise in the kitchen.

As we know Just Salad has branches in New York, Hong Kong and now soon in Dubai. Why do you think Dubai needs something like this?

I think it’s safe to say that everyone is keen on becoming a little healthier and we need more healthy options in Dubai. The first step to becoming healthier is eating healthier. But people always associate healthy eating with boring or tasteless. With Just Salad, your lunch or dinner is 100% customizable, so you can have fun each and every time and take out the “boring” aspect from healthy eating. There are endless combinations you can come up with.

What do you live by? Do you have a certain motto?

Be kind and generous to people. It goes a long way.

How do you select the freshest products? Seasonal? Many suppliers?

We’re working with many suppliers to ensure we always carry the freshest and best products. We have a list of at least 3 or 4 vendors for every single item on our menu, this way we know we’re always getting the best produce available in the market.

Do you have different options that are catered to certain taste buds here in the Middle East?

Of course! We will have lots of exciting options to cater to local tastes! We’re developing some very interesting dressings using local and regional ingredients.

Please share with us some examples of the menu?

The menu consists of Chef Designed Salads that are developed by Just Salad’s head chef and dietitian, Laura Pensiero. She creates all of our Chef-Designed salads and homemade salad dressings. Customers also have the option to build their own customized salad with over 70 different toppings to choose from.

How does Just Salad work? It is a do it yourself concept or hand picked and chopped by staff?

Our staff does everything for you. It’s pretty simple; you choose your base of greens and let them know what toppings you want. Everything is laid out in front of you in our topping station and one of our team members will be there to create your salad for you. Once you’ve selected your toppings and dressing you have the option of having your salad either chopped or tossed. You can even have it in a wrap!

Where are you planning to open?

Our first outlet will be opening at Jumeirah Lake Towers, Indigo Tower, Cluster D. We’ve also secured a location in Bay Square an amazing new development in Business Bay consisting of both residential as well as commercial units. This is scheduled to be up and running by Mid-June. The third location will be at one of Meeras’s new projects on Al Wasl road in Jumeirah. This too is scheduled for Mid-June.

Is it “Just Salad” or more will be offered eventually?

It’s a lot more than Just Salad! It’s definitely built around vegetables and salads but we also offer customized wraps, fresh soups, and fruit and veggie smoothies to name a few.