From Dubai, With Love

Before they were restaurateurs and pioneers, Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam were just two good friends, speculating their next career moves. Originally from the UAE and Saudi Arabia respectively, the women pursued art and design in the years before they became known as the founders of Salt—the food phenomenon that’s taking Dubai by storm.

For residents of the United Arab Emirates, the food truck concept was literally nonexistent until a few years ago. Enter the two twenty-somethings who have been credited with bringing food trucks into Dubai pop-culture, starting with the introduction of their mobile “pop-up”, Salt. The idea was rather easy—follow @FindSalt on Instagram, use the social media site to track the truck’s next pit-stop, and get there in time to enjoy excellent food in a down-to-earth atmosphere.

For Deem, the idea of starting her own company wasn’t altogether new. In 2009, the Saudi national opened Switch—her first restaurant in Dubai Mall. “I really wanted to do my own concept”, she says. “I started thinking of a franchise, but it never worked.”

With a shared curiosity for trying something new, Deem and her friend Amal began toying with a less-costly version of a full-scale restaurant. “Winter was coming, and you know we always get excited because the weather is nice. So we decided, let’s do a food truck.”

Ironically, it was the duo’s lack of experience that created the kind of bold-faced confidence that they needed to get off the ground.

In Dubai, municipality laws that made it nearly impossible to open or operate a food truck in Dubai, so receiving permission from local government was their first challenge. After asking around a bit, the women encountered a government employee who gave them enough optimism to carry on in spite of their obstacles.

“We went ahead, ordered the truck, did our branding, and developed the concept. Because if that person told us we couldn’t, we would’ve stopped there and continued with our lives. But he really did a big favour: giving us hope.”

With their new-found confidence nudging them along, it came as a shock to hear that the local municipality had rejected their request for permission. Far before even asking for permission, Deem and Amal had spent considerable time researching the operational requirements, health mandates, and other lesser-known aspects to running a food truck.

The fact that the truck had wheels, they learned, was the biggest hindrance. That’s when Amal got fed up. “I told them, ‘OK you know what, forget it, it’s not a food truck, it’s a caravan, it’s a kiosk. Keep that in mind, it’s a kiosk, I’m not moving.’ And we finally got [permission], having it as a kiosk!”

The duo went on to name the food truck “Salt”—paying homage to the basic, but necessary ingredient.

In a span of less than a year, Salt evolved from a food truck selling fresh, locally grown dining, to a cultural experience. With the help of Instagram, it also grew a rather loyal following. Dubai’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan and his father Sheikh Mohammed recently visited the pop-up on separate occasions, making the company instantly popular.

At the heart of the movement, is a desire to fill the holes in the dining experience in Dubai, where locals and tourists can swap roles, and enjoy fresh, local food in a no-frills, simple way.

The pop-up has stationed at Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Nad Al Sheba, and most recently at Jumeirah’s Kite Beach in Dubai.

“Everyone gets excited for anything new in Dubai,” the women explain. But with fans in the thousands (Dubai’s royal Sheikh among them), it’s not likely that Salt will fade into the background anytime soon.

 

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