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Billionaire founder Flavio Briatore on launching in Saudi Arabia, plus his plans for Qatar

As Saudi Arabia’s first venue offering entertainment, Billionaire is breaking the mould in the Kingdom

When former Formula One executive Flavio Briatore turned his attention to hospitality, the “theatre dining experience” Billionaire was born.

Originally launched in Italy, followed by a second venue in Dubai, Billionaire is an experience for night owls, bon viveurs and voyeurs. Doors open at 9pm and dinner is served from 10pm, accompanied by live performances from writhing acrobats and dancers in elaborate costumes.

Today, Briatore’s portfolio dazzles pleasure-seekers across Italy, the UAE, the UK, Monaco, Kenya and KSA, with the Billionaire brand joined by Twiga and Crazy Pizza.

Flavio Briatore’s lifestyle empire expanded into Saudi at the end of 2020. Connecting Travel caught up with the entertainment mogul to find out how his hedonistic Billionaire brand is impacting the Kingdom’s nightlife.

Connecting Travel: How has Billionaire Riyadh been received in Saudi Arabia?

Flavio Briatore: Billionaire Riyadh opened in December 2020, and, at the moment, the only offering is the dining experience. We’re very pleased with its success thus far, but now we’re looking forward to this autumn when we’ll be able to offer the full Billionaire Experience, similar to that in Dubai, but in line with and in full respect of Saudi Arabia’s culture.

We’re very excited, as we’ll be the first venue offering entertainment and are now in the process of fine-tuning all the aspects. Billionaire Dubai and Riyadh are very similar in the culinary aspect and in the luxurious ambience and décor elements, which are proper to the brand. The only major difference is that Billionaire Dubai is located within the TAJ hotel whereas Billionaire Riyadh is an impressive, standalone building.

Dinner HallBillionaire Riyadh

CT: Currently, alcohol is prohibited in Saudi – but there’s talk of change amid growing tolerance. Are you expecting drinks on the menu any time soon?

FB: We’re making no assumptions that there will be potential changes in the law. We’re thrilled to be in Saudi Arabia as it is and happy to have been so well received and appreciated by an enthusiastic and loyal clientele.

CT: With branches in Monaco, the UK and Italy, Twiga and Crazy Pizza are doing well. Can you describe their DNA?

FB: Twiga originated in Forte dei Marmi, a famous beach resort in Tuscany, Italy, and from there we established Twiga Monte Carlo and Sumosan Twiga in London. Crazy Pizza is the newest addition to our portfolio, and now we have one in Monte Carlo, two in London (in Marylebone and Knightsbridge) and one in Porto Cervo in Sardinia, Italy.

The DNA that all our brands share is that they are all high-intensity, vibrant venues where we combine the excellence of food with great service

Twiga is eclectic in concept and décor. Originating from a sea resort, Twiga features a menu that favours seafood and is geared towards a universal audience.

Crazy Pizza is a new concept: a chic restaurant that serves pizza. But our pizzas are special: thin crust, no yeast and so incredibly light. Our mozzarella is entirely made on-site and is on full display so that guests can enjoy a bit of a show, with chefs spinning pizzas right in front of them along with the mozzarella being freshly prepared and served right away. It’s young and playful, but high quality and chic!

CT: Any plans to open either one in the Middle East?

FB: We have openings planned for the Middle East in the pipeline for both brands and the first location will be in Doha in Qatar.

CT: The Billionaire brand has two resorts: Billionaire Kenya and Lion in the Sun. Who are they aimed at and what are their USPs?

FB: Billionaire Resort in Malindi is a complex of luxury apartments on Malindi Beach and Lion in the Sun is a boutique hotel and spa retreat. The clientele varies from the international globe-trotting crowd looking for long-stay vacations to a more local clientele from Nairobi searching for a change of scenery from their usual surroundings, for the weekend.

CT: How were the resorts impacted by the pandemic and what’s in the pipeline?

FB: The pandemic impacted everything – and therefore our resort venues as well – with the restrictions of travelling. But now, things are slowly progressing again, and we have plans to launch more Billionaire Resorts.

Team spirit and teamwork are vital elements, which I learned from my Formula One years. It keeps the staff united and strong

CT: How do you find the best staff in hospitality and keep them motivated?

FB: We’re proud that we have a very low turnover of staff in the company. We nurture talent and it’s a pleasure to see our staff progress and grow within the Group. Meritocracy is a big motivation for them to stay, as is receiving a fair salary and a culture of duty and of high standards. The team are aware that when service is excellent, they will be rewarded by us and by the client. Also, staff members are always given the first choice when an opportunity arises in another venue or country.

CT: What has been your biggest lesson since switching to the hospitality trade?

FB: In Formula One, the day after you win a race, you start from zero again, as it is necessary, in order to win the next race. I have this approach in any business or new venture I undertake. In the hospitality business, competition is fierce and you always have to strive for more, rising to the next level; be innovative and never compromise on quality. Never take for granted that being successful today means you will equally be tomorrow.

CT: What motivates you?

FB: Everything that I do – for me, it’s not work; it’s my passion. I do not have any hobbies and my business interests keep me motivated and happy. And I find great pleasure in creating new ventures and new job opportunities for people and seeing my brands conquer new markets.

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