Interview in brief: Abdullah Al Mulla, the co-founder of Home Bakery, tells us about the development of Home Bakery from a home business into a successful cafe, and his experience with managing an F&B business. Read on to know more about Abdullah and Home Bakery café.
Sail: Tell us about the beginnings of Home Bakery; how was the volume of demand and how manageable from home was it?
Abdullah: When Home Bakery started from the house, my sister (Hind) managed everything by herself. She started off with the cookies; the “mini chewy melts”. She baked them as a hobby and then sent them to my majlis & the family house. When people started regularly asking for the cookies, I suggested to her to open a Twitter account so that they can order directly from her. She began with just cookies then moved to cakes, brownies, and so on.
The volume of orders started increasing, my sister and her maid couldn’t cope with the orders. The house driver was standing every day at Mercato from 4 to 6 pm for order pickups. My father suggested expanding the business, so we rented a villa in Jumeirah as Home Bakery’s kitchen, and we got two extra staff just to help my sister with the baking. From there the menu started growing, but the team remained the same. The team of Home Bakery at the outset was my sister, one of our maids and our driver.
Sail: What made you move from being a home business to opening the cafe?
Abdullah: The orders, it was too much for a house kitchen to handle so my father suggested that we open a full-fledged coffee shop; he would finance it, while my siblings and I would own & run it. So we are two brothers and two sisters who own Home Bakery. My sister (Hind) does all the creation and menu side, and I do all operation work and management, and the other two siblings are silent partners.
Sail: And how did you split the roles and tasks between Hind and yourself?
Abdullah: Hind handles the creation side and the kitchen, while I manage the operation and management sides. To manage the baker you can’t have two bosses in the same department, so each one handles their work, and we would just do follow-ups with each other.
Sail: Does your relationship as siblings impact your relationship as business partners?
Abdullah: When it comes to work, we don’t talk about it in the house. If we want to talk about work, we schedule a meeting, sit down and talk, if not in the office then we go sit down in the other hall at home for an hour, but it’s never where everyone is sitting.
Sail: What was the most challenging aspect of opening and operating the cafe?
Abdullah: The most challenging part was that I didn’t have any F&B (Food & Beverage) business experience; I studied law. My sister studied graphic design, but baking was a passion for her. I needed to learn the business side of operating an F&B concept. My friends helped; I have a few friends who own F&B franchise chains, so I sat down with their operating managers. The hardest thing was to have every customer leave the place satisfied, and having the employees understand that every customer has different needs and tastes.
Sail: You started with just dessert, but now, you have expanded your dessert menu and added breakfast too. What pushed you to expand your menu and what challenges did you face in the process?
Abdullah: When we opened the cafe, the first thing we had to think about was how to attract people to dine in the café and not just order for takeaway. We developed the a la carte menu, which is only served in the bakery.
I wanted the bakery to be a place where people would come in and see it busy, so offering desserts only wouldn’t have worked. In the mornings what will you serve? You can’t expect someone to wake up in the morning and have a chocolate cake. So I decided to add the breakfast menu along with the desserts. Our menu is small and we change it often so people would get excited to come & visit again.
Sail: You’re known to be often present in the cafe: why? And how do you think this may have contributed to the success of Home Bakery?
Abdullah: I was present at first to get people to come, but now just to see how the team manages without me being there all the time. I tell my team: “I am not here as the boss, I am here as a customer. I want to see how you guys work.” I go every morning to have my breakfast; it’s been two years straight now. And I go in the afternoon or evening as well to see the night crowd, their likes, dislikes, and what annoys people when it comes to being serving.
On the second day that we opened, I started working as a waiter. It wasn’t planned, but it was busy, so I put on an apron & started helping out. I found myself doing it for two months, from 7 am to 12:30 am or 1 am. I washed dishes; I mopped the floor, picked up food, etc. It was the hardest thing I did in my life, but doing that is what taught me the essence of running the café.
Sail: If you were to start this business all over again, what would you do differently?
I don’t know if I would change anything. If I didn’t make all the mistakes I did, I wouldn’t be running it the way I am doing now. The first six months were a disaster; the supply chain was wrong; I did not know how to order ahead or how to serve a customer. All of these small mistakes helped me make it what it is today. Also, I am always open to comments from people. Being open to what people tell you will make them feel like this (Home Bakery) is their place. People used to ask me why I would work as a waiter, but I took it seriously because this was my business, and then the achievements would speak for themselves.
Sail: What is your plan for Home Bakery’s future?
Abdullah: Two locations are opening up soon, one in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi.
Sail: What are your tips for young Emiratis who are hoping to set up their businesses?
Abdullah: Work in every department. You have to have the passion, not money. If you have the money to open a business, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll succeed. You need to have the passion for opening a business, and the money will flow later. If you think of cost cutting and reducing your quality to increase your profits, you might do well the first year and then the business will die out. Never compromise quality for the profit.
Mariam Khalifa (@thesleepwriter)
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