I don’t think I have ever envied anyone in my life, but if I could be a person for a day, I would choose to be Basil Al-Salem. Smart, driven and dedicated with brains and creativity that compete with international entrepreneurs, he is by far one of the most intriguing people I have had the opportunity to meet. A proud owner of not one but seven successful restaurants in the Arab Gulf, he mixes and matches all the things he loves and delivers to his clientele a dining experience worth every single penny.
Ghadeer Al-Otaibi: Who is Basil Al-Salem?
Basil Al-Salem: It is very difficult to define who I am. I would like to think of myself as a dynamic person. I am what I learn. I keep learning, so my personality, and who I am is constantly evolving based on events that occur on a daily basis. Who I was a year ago is different to who I am today. It is a learning curve. Learning from your mistakes, trying to be a better person, so I think being dynamic is where I am most comfortable. I don’t like being a static person.
G.A.: How did you get to the position that you are in today?
B.A: You have to have a goal. The goal is not to build a business, not to be on top of a corporation or on top of something big, rather focusing and aiming to reach something you like and focus on the real purpose of you being in this business in the first place. Once you define that that becomes your goal. In my instance, it’s a matter of liking the things I like, love design, I love food, I love going to restaurants and I have a business background. So it was a combination of all the different aspects of the things I like and finding something to do with it. I have a background in finance and investment, however my other interests, my hobbies, interior design, food, graphics, all that, I felt, the only way to combine them was through the restaurant business.
G.A.: So would you say you nurture your restaurants like your children?
B.A.: A lot of people actually say I do treat them like my children! I spend a lot of time with them, at times more so than my family and friends, so it becomes part of your life. It becomes a reflection of who you are, just like your children. So if there is something wrong with the place, I have to sit and correct it because I do not want it to be a reflection upon myself.
G.A.: Did you picture your restaurants being as successful as they are today?
B.A.: That wasn’t my goal. I don’t look at success as an objective. I look at it as a result. I look at it as a customer rather than a restaurant owner, and think, what do I really want in a restaurant? Good food, good service and a good design place. People used to view restaurants as a place to eat; now people view restaurants as a place to be entertained. It is a completely different shift. You are looking at a total dining experience today, rather than going to eat. You don’t go because you are hungry, you go for an experience. And that requires a lot of different elements, from service, design, music, food, all of it is part of the experience of the place and that is what a lot of people do not understand in the business. They think it is about selling food. People are paying a premium for the food and the experience.
G.A.: Could you outline your restaurants for us please?
B.A.: Burger Boutique in Kuwait and Saudi, Slider Station in Kuwait and Oman, Cocoa room, B+F Open Flame Kitchen in Kuwait, B+F Road Side Diner in Oman.
G.A.: Could you explain a day in your life, how it would operate?
B.A.: (With a chuckle) It is chaotic and never the same. It goes from meetings during the day to meetings at night. Going from restaurant to restaurant and making sure things are running well. Things are unpredictable in the restaurant business. Even scheduling gym time gets hard to do. I deal with things like power cuts in restaurants, staff members misplacing identification cards and having problems with authorities, people losing their stuff in the restaurant or thinking they have, and this extends from Kuwait through Saudi onto Oman. I can’t really ever say: ok, this is my day, when I wake up, when I sleep. My day never goes according to plan. It isn’t a desk job. I am always on the run. It’s very sporadic.
G.A.: Ok, so seeing as work takes over your time, when you are not working and just relaxing, what do you like to do?
B.A.: I love to travel. I love to explore the world. And I mean explore, not go to a city and shop. I am more of a cultural person, I love to learn about different cultures, different cuisine, different languages, I love architecture, the history of the places I visit, love going to museums and experiencing as well as learning about the local heritage. I do the things also that I do not get the time to do in Kuwait, so I read and spend time with the family also.
G.A.: A secret hidden talent that not many people know you do?
Surprisingly, not many people know that I design my restaurants. Not many people know that I get into the food of the restaurant. They think I am just an owner with chefs and designers, but I am very much involved in these aspects.
Basil Al-Salem’s B+F Open Flame Kitchen won the Gold Award for “Best New Retail Concept” in 2011 for the Middle East and Africa and will be competing against the rest of the world in Vegas at some point in 2012. All I have to say is that it comes as no surprise when you get to meet the man behind the concept and it just goes to show what a great contenders he, his staff and restaurants are.
Images courtesy of Basil Al-Salem