Launching a 100,000 sq. ft. F&B destination in Dubai during a pandemic is no sweat for Bla Bla’s Mohammed Islam

Mohammed Islam of Bla Bla
Mohammed Islam of Bla Bla feels cuisine options at prices that is accessible to most is where F&B industry is heading. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: For Mohammed Islam, a Bangladesh-born entrepreneur in the UAE, the impact of the pandemic breakout was felt in a different way. While thousands of business owners were ready to potentially mourn the closure of their companies in 2020, Bangladeshi born, American raised, Dubai businessman Mohammad Islam was powering through the pandemic to launch his newest venture.

He is the owner of Bla Bla, an F&B destination located at The Beach, opposite the JBR high-rise cluster. And it’s not just another F&B place in a city that’s saturated with plenty of options.

Bla Bla spreads over 100,000 square feet and features three restaurants, a beach club and 20 bars. This space is the first independent property in the area licensed for beverages, shisha and live music. But when it opened earlier this year, the F&B industry was still confronted with the myriad issues related to the pandemic breakout, the many guidelines to be followed, and possible concerns among diners about eating out.

Mohammed Islam of Bla Bla outlines his way of making an F&B concept work in today’s altered market conditions. Virendra Saklani & Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News

“The whole space was 100,000 square feet of dirt last year,” said Islam. “Ironically, the pandemic worked out in my favour. The teams we hired had no other projects to work on, which meant they had ample time.

“We ensured that everyone working on the construction team had a permit, so they were able to really dedicate a lot of time to this project.”

And it was completed in record time. Construction started on May 16, 2020 and finished by December – it opened in January 2021.

“A part of me feels like I went into this a little blind,” said Islam, who was raised in the US. “The pandemic brought such an unpredictable and unexpected time that I didn’t even know if we would be able to open. But something told me to keep going ahead with this project.”

It’s all paying off now

The high-risk strategy seems to have worked. Patrons can be seen queueing up for up to an hour to get a table. The response so far has been one exceeding expectation for such a new venue. “The phones have not stopped ringing. We are fully booked on most nights.”

‘In decline’

Although Islam spent years living and working in the US – whether it was at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, or training under Jean Georges himself – he seems to understand the market in Dubai. “Inclusivity and multi-purpose venues are the way to go in Dubai,” said Islam. “We built a venue that is nothing fancy but somehow has everything you need. This is what people seem to want.”

People can walk around barefoot by the pool, or they can dress up to experience the Hollywood themed bar. “We don’t have a VIP section – we don’t want that,” he said. “We like a pocket-friendly experience that keeps people on the premises from daytime to nighttime.”

Bla bla
Bla Bla opens as early as 8am and serves breakfast for those wanting to spend the day there.

Although a venue this size could be a challenge to keep full, Islam is not worried about that. “I think the large size of the venue is more of a positive than a negative. Obviously, it helps that our options are becoming quite popular – but having multiple offerings and themes in one spot is definitely a way to draw more people in.”

Catering to all

Each of the 20 concepts has been created to cater to a full spectrum of preferences and pockets, from barefoot beverages by the beach to higher-end cocktails overlooking the water.

“Our target market is the people who live around here – JBR, Marina, JLT, Bluewaters.”

Bla Bla Beach club
The Beach Club at Bla Bla – Mohammed Islam has fitted in quite a few options into the 100,000 square feet space. Image Credit: Suplied

Location helps

“What drew me to this location was the personal reason of how well I know this neighbourhood,” he said. “I live around here, so it’s just a spot I am familiar with. I also really wanted something by the beach.”

His other concept, Atelier M, is also in the neighbourhood. Located at Dubai Marina’s Pier 7, it was his first showcase restaurant in the Middle East and taught him so much about the local market. “When I saw that this spot was available, I had to jump at the opportunity.”

It’s no secret that your location and your space can make or break your business in Dubai. These days it makes sense for some, financially and aesthetically, to have a multi-functional space, like Bla Bla.

Even in areas saturated with beach clubs and restaurants, Bla Bla stands out for its sheer size and the high volume of themed offerings. Every time you visit, you could end up in a completely different vibe, eat quite different food and, as a result, the novelty takes a lot of time to wear off.

“We liked the idea of having a venue with various offerings. It means guests can arrive for breakfast, stay and relax by the pool, dine in the restaurants, then shower, change and stay for evening dinner and drinks.”

What’s next

Will the lull of summer continue to give the venue such a steady stream of guests? “We have plenty of offers going on, including a breakfast deal. Our brunch has launched and we offer live entertainment, which people here love.”

Although the outdoor space will be less of a focus during the hotter months, Bla Bla has plenty of indoor options to accommodate residents. “That’s the beauty of being a multi-purpose space after all,” he added.