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Interview: Panchali Mahendra on launching restaurants in Riyadh

With two launches in Saudi and another in the UAE, Atelier House Hospitality’s MD is shaping the F&B scene

Panchali Mahendra is a powerhouse in hospitality in the Middle East, heading up strategy and execution in the Gulf region as managing director of Atelier House Hospitality and Altamarea Group. She’s deeply passionate about food while understanding that the dining experience extends beyond the plate. Creating atmospheric concepts from 11 Woodfire to Mohalla, Mahendra has a proven track record in launching restaurants that work. We caught with her to find out what’s in the pipeline for Atelier House Hospitality and Altamarea Group, from Dubai to New York.

CONNECTING TRAVEL: You’re the managing director of two hospitality companies. Can you give us a brief history of Atelier House Hospitality and Altamarea Group?
Panchali Mahendra: Atelier House Hospitality (AHH) is a hospitality advisory, development and operations boutique management firm based in New York City with a fully operating office in Dubai. AHH delivers a depth of world-class expertise on the art and nuance of operating high-calibre food and beverage venues. With decades of experience and a team of world-class talent, Atelier House brings a global perspective that empowers F&B businesses to achieve their aspirations. AHH is an affiliate of the New York’s Altamarea Group. I head up the Gulf region strategy and execution.

CT: Do the two culinary firms work in synergy?
PM: Yes, absolutely! We reach out and are integrated on all market data analysis, culinary development, technical work-related deliverables and marketing. Our CEO, Ahmass Fakahany works out of the NYC office, and we are regularly in touch and benefit from his advice and mentorship. Also, Marea, one of our flagship brands in Dubai, originates from New York – the flagship restaurant is just across from Central Park – and as a result, we always align and connect on menu and wine perspectives.

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CT: Atelier House Hospitality is set to open Morini and Mohalla brands in Riyadh. Can you tell us about the concepts?
In Riyadh, we are partnering with Unified Hospitality Group and plan to launch 10 Mohalla restaurants across KSA. Mohalla is our trendy Indian homegrown brand from Dubai that’s extended to open at The Esplanade in Riyadh this year. Mohalla is an ode to the ‘Community Neighbourhoods’ of India. We transport guests to the streets of ‘True India’, the bustling cities and the quaint towns to experience the magic of its delectable street food, with all its variety, spices, flavours and colours. What emerges is a unique journey through the explored and unexplored cuisines from different parts of India.

We take this Indian Street food element and flavour journey and then elevate it to the more seasoned client

Morini is our chic Italian restaurant from New York and Istanbul. Morini serves authentic and specialised Italian cuisine across regions of Italy. It’s exquisite yet comfortable. The Altamarea Group is renowned for its pasta dishes and the simple yet high quality ingredients of its food. We expect to open in the 2nd quarter of 2022 at the new luxury boutique hotel, Jareed.

CT: What are the differences between launching a restaurant in the UAE and Saudi Arabia?
One of the prime differences is in the hiring process, especially keeping in mind the Saudi citizen quota allocation, which is not a policy of the UAE. In Riyadh, the demographic also has more density of local population versus the UAE, which requires particular thought to the indigenous client base.

CT: You recently launched 11 Woodfire in Dubai. How is that going?
11 Woodfire is a venture from Atelier House Hospitality in partnership with chef Akmal Anuar. As the name suggests, 11 is a woodfire ingredient immersion, discovering heritage cooking at its finest from our forefathers to modern-day dining. 11 Woodfire goes back to our origins and celebrates the earth’s natural bounty and community. The philosophy centres around a warming fire – a place to gather and connect and share honest, fresh ingredient-based food with old and new friends, family and loved ones. Chef Akmal feels less is more and going back to basics in cooking has a place in all our hearts. Located in Jumeirah 1, the restaurant is elevated, yet casual, welcoming guests into an environment that oozes character and conviviality with a sleek and contemporary edge.

11 WOODFIRE dubai restaurant11 Woodfire, Dubai

CT: You’re one of Dubai’s Golden Visa awardees. Does that help in business?
I’m honoured and humbled, and I’m more energised to contribute to Dubai. I feel this recognition has helped in many intangible forms. Atelier House benefits from my golden visa status as it deepens confidence for our clients regarding the quality of our work because it recognises our commitment to Dubai.

CT: What’s next for Atelier House Hospitality and Altamarea Group?
In addition to the openings in Riyadh, we’re about to open a modern French restaurant in Dubai in the second quarter of 2022. We’re also working on a lounge-bar concept for Marea in DIFC. We’ll see what is next for Mohalla in the region, and we are also working on several conceptualisations and advisory projects, as well. Over in New York, Altamarea Group is opening an exciting fine-dining contemporary Asian concept, named 53, adjacent to the MoMa in Manhattan in Spring.

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