With an estimated 1.5 million football fans descending on Qatar in November for the World Cup, there are plenty of opportunities for savvy businesses.
Qatar has one of the fastest-growing economies in the Gulf and many of its most innovative enterprises are based in the Business District.
And with an estimated 1.5 million football fans descending on Qatar in November for the World Cup, there are plenty of savvy businesses keen to show foreign visitors what the country has to offer.
An eating experience for all the family
How many times have we all found ourselves in a shopping mall food court, trying to pick a place to eat? Well, now there’s an app for that.
West Bay's Tornado Tower is home to a Virtual Food Hall where you can browse from multiple restaurant menus and pay in one transaction.
It's called AND Experience and it isn’t your ordinary lunch spot - it's more like ten restaurants in one.
Ali Nasser Al-Saadi is its creator.
"A virtual hybrid food hall is basically where we’re operating different brands under one roof, where a customer can come in and order from different cuisines under the same transaction," he explains.
Think of a food court. Mom wants pizza, dad wants a salad and the kids want pasta. The difference is, all of the brands here at AND Experience, are owned by Ali Nasser Al-Saadi.
The adventure started back in 2015 with mini pancakes in The Pearl zone, a family-friendly residential district that's built on artificial islands, to the north of Doha.
Al-Saadi said it took about a month for word to spread, but when it did, it wasn’t long before he was making 2,000 mini pancakes every 10 minutes.
"It was something very new in Doha," he remembers. "To have a Qatari concept, especially running the business and being there on the ground. So, I was flipping pancakes and being the cashier and everything. And it evolved."
That success led him to open AND café. Then, the pandemic hit. Locked into a five-year building lease, Al-Saadi needed a plan. That’s when he got the idea of turning his coffee shop into a central kitchen. AND Café literally turned into A New Dining Experience, or “AND Experience”.
"So we have your breakfast," Al-Saadi says as he gives us a tour. "We have your coffee, your pasta, your sliders, your wings and also empowering other people – business people where we have West African cuisine. So, we’ve taken brands that people want to open and we help them develop those brands by offering them a location, kitchen, chef and the right tools for them to expand their business."
In most kitchens, a chef has to master one menu. But here, there are ten different menus for the team to prepare - from salads and burgers to Italian and Senegalese cuisine.
Food bloggers put the AND Experience to the test
Dionne Lobo and Ian Marks started their food blog five years ago. The husband and wife duo regularly visit new restaurants in Doha – and put them to the test.
"When we came to Doha, social media wasn’t such a big thing," says Dionne. "Over a period of time, it has and all across the globe, people are reacting to food bloggers more because they are more personable and you can relate to them, rather than a critic."
So we invited Dionne and Ian to try the AND Experience. Their verdict:
"You can’t go wrong with butter chicken," says Ian. "Butter chicken was amazing."
"The potatoes were nice," says Dionne. "Very different, not your usual potatoes."
"They were very sweet," adds Ian. "It was perfect. You saw my mouth drooling?"
Al-Saadi believes his success is part of a wider trend.
"I think people started digressing from the international franchises and chains into having the power to learn from other people and create things similar in a better way," he says.
Al-Saadi hopes to go cashless early in the new year and is also developing an app where you can place your order, get a table number and have your food delivered as soon as you arrive.
Not bad for a business that began as a mini pancake kiosk, just a few years ago.
A vegan business empire
How do you build a vegan business empire? Well, there’s one man in Qatar who knows better than most - Ghanim al Sulaiti. The young founder of Enbat Holdings has created seven successful vegan businesses - from restaurants to skincare.
"I didn't come from a background of businesses," he says. "I had to learn everything from the beginning. I had to kind of immerse myself into the process. So the beginning was very exciting. We were trying to create a space that can inspire people, that can revolutionise the way people eat in Qatar, because we felt that people in Qatar were not aware when it comes to our eating habits and how food is actually affecting our health. Six years later, it's no longer a small business anymore. I mean, we're talking about 13 food and beverage locations. We're talking about two spas that are fully operational. We're talking about 250 staff and team members of ours. I always say to people Doha is now becoming the most vegan-friendly city in the world. I'm comparing it to New York and L.A. and London and Paris, because it has 13 locations of vegan restaurants around the city."
Ghanim believes that veganism is more than just a diet.
"Veganism is kind of a lifestyle and that's why I call it a movement because it doesn't just stop at food," he says. "It goes beyond that. It goes to the farms. It goes to the way we treat animals, to the way we are dressing every day. So I think being vegan is about being the best version of yourself at the current time with the current global situation."
One of Ghanim's locations is Evergreen Organics in Gate mall. It combines a shop integrated into a restaurant.
"So the idea here was to create an escape for the people that are walking in the mall, surrounded by, you know, plants and greenery," he says. "Evergreen is an all day dining kind of experience. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have around, I would say, 70 items on the menu. But at the same time, we have a beautiful supermarket. The idea is to encourage people to buy local because we have a lot of local products and we collaborate with local companies and local farms to provide really good food."
Also in Gate mall is Mylk, a vegan ice cream and chocolate shop.
"We tried to design it in a way where it kind of reflects the beauty of Scandinavian design," says Ghanim. "But at the same time, making sure that it reflects simplicity and allows people to enjoy a different kind of space when it comes to veganism, and it doesn't look like a vegan place. But for us, this is kind of the goal behind the concept."
There is a whole service offering: Green & Go, for grabbing what you need quickly, Evergreen where people can take their time a bit more, and Mylk for sweet treats that are still healthy.
"It's an ecosystem of businesses, so each business complements the other business," says Ghanim. "Green & Go is for people on the go. In the metro, Evergreen is more like a chill down on a weekend. Mylk is more when you feel you have a sweet tooth and you want to fulfil some kind of craving. So every concept kind of feeds into the right place to the right audience."
Preparing for the World Cup legacy
With an estimated 1.5 million football fans descending on Qatar in November for the World Cup, there are plenty of opportunities for savvy businesses to capitalize on foreign visitors keen to experience what the country has to offer.
Back in 2015, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – the organization responsible for planning Qatar 2022 - put out an open call for businesses to develop projects that could eventually play their part in the FIFA World Cup. That initiative was called Challenge 22.
"We wanted to inspire people utilizing the FIFA World Cup and have their products and services be a part of the overall journey and the actual tournament itself," says Ahsan Mansoor, Director of Fan Engagement and Ambassadors on the Supreme Committee. "We hope beyond that, that people will also continue to take a look at mega events as an inspiration for innovation."
Solar paving stones
Twelve regional businesses were eventually announced as winners, including SunPave . Co-founded by engineer Mohammad Al Gammal, the idea is pretty unusual: solar panels that you can walk on.
"What is special about our products is that they allow the freedom to install solar panels without hindering or without messing up with the utilization of the space," he says. "So, you don't have to install frames and put the normal panels on them and mess up with the landscape and the architecture of the locations. But instead, you just use them as paving stones and your space is still usable."
As part of the Challenge 22 legacy, Al Thumama Stadium will have SunPave solar panels installed ahead of the FIFA World Cup in a dedicated area outside the stadium.
"For the period of the World Cup, the stadium management decided that part of this power will be directed towards powering an electronic charging area where people can sit down to relax for a bit and maybe recharge their devices," says Mohammad.
An experiential marketplace
Another Challenge 22 project planning to cater for visitors in a different way is the tourist app ViaVii. Originally created in Jordan it offers visitors a one-stop shop to access different local highlights.
"It's an experiential marketplace platform where curators can list their experiences online," says ViaVii operations lead Faiha Sahirah.
"We connect those who want to seek new things, find unique and adventurous things to do that you can't really find anywhere else and be able to meet someone that will be able to provide these services for them."
Local artist Rima Abuharb was approached to partner with ViaVii last year.
"For the FIFA visitors," says Rima. "I will be holding more workshops for them to create their own designs from their mind. Because I feel what I aim for and everything that I do is that I want people to explore their imagination."
The company works with curators who aren’t simply found via Google, like Mohammed Al Sulaiti whose boat tours operate entirely by word of mouth, or a local farm offering family days out.
With just weeks to go until the world’s biggest sporting event kicks off, and millions of eyes on Qatar, all the Challenge 22 winners are hoping that their businesses meet a need in the market that extends long after the tournament ends.
And for an amazing view of the business district, there's no better spot than the helipad of the JW Mariott hotel.