Martin Kubler is the CEO and Chief Cook & Bottle Washer of sps: affinity, a boutique strategic business consultancy based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates which offers a range of innovative services, from corporate communications to dynamic business development strategies.
Martin has lived and worked in Dubai for over a decade. Recently he launched his new project JLT Dining which is dedicated to promoting the F&B outlets in the area of Jumeirah Lake Towers. A few days ago his team successfully hosted the first JLT Restaurant Awards. Martin sat down with Passion for Dubai to discuss his Dubai experience and how it inspires his business creativity.
How long have you been living in Dubai and how does it compare to the other cities that you lived in?
I arrived in Dubai in August 2004 having spent almost 10 years in London before that. Initially, I stayed for 2 years and then left to go to Qatar. I worked in Doha for about 1.5 years and eventually returned to Dubai in 2007 and have been here ever since. I enjoy Dubai’s multiculturalism and the fact that it’s very clean and safe. Although I really enjoyed living in London, I think Dubai is a much better place to raise kids.
Add to that the fabulous weather for most parts of the year and the fact that Dubai has such a strategic location making it a great place to do business, and you have an altogether very pleasant place to be in.
Tell us a little bit about your project JLT Dining and what inspired you to start this website?
Before starting my first company, I was working in JLT, just next to the Almas Tower. That was in 2007 and the area was still mostly holes in the ground and sand. It wasn’t easy to get anything good to eat locally, but I watched with interest how more and more independent restaurants opened in the neighbourhood. I thought that this could develop into something special and bought the JLT Dining domain around 2011 thinking it might come in useful one day. I didn’t really have the time or a good idea what to do with it until early in 2016, my company took over another Dubai-based company, which came with a fully fledged web-development team attached.
Business was slow, so I figured I’ll get my team to finally do something with the JLT Dining domain. By that time, there were almost 200 independent restaurants in JLT, but the biggest problem was that it was very difficult to figure out what was where, how to get there, etc. I thought that a straightforward online restaurant directory would be a neat idea and also help the restaurateurs in JLT from a marketing perspective. Many of the restaurants in JLT are family-run and don’t have huge marketing budgets. We offer free listings to all independent restaurants, which makes it easy for restaurateurs to sign up and be part of it. Even our premium listings and paid advertising features are very affordable.
You have recently created and hosted the first JLT Restaurant Awards, are you satisfied with the outcome and how did the public perceive this initiative?
Like many great ideas and inventions, the JLT Restaurant Awards were thought up over a couple of pints in a local bar and conceptualized on the back of a few beermats one evening last summer.
Having been to many similar events, I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to put something like that together. In the end, things weren’t quite that easy, but we got there and I think we delivered a quality event that added a lot of value to the neighbourhood and the F&B community here. Feedback has been very positive and we’ve learned many useful things, which we’ll incorporate into the next edition of the awards.
Congratulations to Labbys The Hellenic House for winning the award for the Best European Unlicensed.
What’s next for JLT Dining?
We launched JLT Dining just over a year ago. It’s been going very well since then, but there are still a fair few points on the website that we’d like to improve, which we’ll do in the coming weeks.
For 2018, we obviously planned for a repeat of the JLT Restaurant Awards, but we also want to introduce more events to JLT. We’re currently looking at a “Battle of the Chefs”-style event, that will see chefs from different restaurants in JLT cook off against each other, and we also want to launch neighbourhood food walks, where diners can enjoy food from several restaurants during a walk through the neighbourhood and also meet the chefs.
We also recently partnered with the Middle East Food Forum as a media partner, which may create more opportunities in the future.
Name your top three restaurants in Dubai.
Keeping it local to JLT, I really like Wokyo Noodle Bar – it has a great, laid-back atmosphere, there’s never a long wait, and it’s ideal for vegetarians like me.
I also really like 25 Degrees North (Al Barsha Heights and other locations) – it’s my go-to Indian restaurant.
Kyo Restaurant & Lounge on the Palm’s Golden Mile is another favourite and has possibly the nicest garden lounge in the entire city, fabulous service, and really creative Japanese food.
What do you like most about living in Dubai?
The many different cultures here and the overall good lifestyle. It’s a great place for families.
How would you compare Christmas in Dubai with other destinations? Is there anything different you can find in Dubai?
What I enjoy about Christmas here is that everyone gets into the spirit, despite their cultural backgrounds. That’s true, of course, for all such events in Dubai – everyone comes together to celebrate and you can learn a lot of things in the process.
I’m not a big shopper, so from that perspective Christmas, wherever I celebrate it, holds little appeal for me, but I do very much enjoy being able to go to the beach on Christmas and have a BBQ Christmas dinner in our garden. That’s certainly not something that would be possible in the places I have lived in before coming to Dubai.