Joe Osawaye, a business owner and the Chief Executive Officer of Kiza Restaurant & Lounge, an upscale hospitality facility speaks about the ease of living and doing business in Dubai

Starting a Business in Dubai, what is your story?

I visited Dubai for the first time in 2005. When I came here, I knew I was going to move here sometime soon in the future. I finally moved down in 2013. People know me for my Hospitality and Kiza Restaurant and lounge.

Kiza was established in 2012 by a friend of mine, who was relocated out of the country and I took over fully in 2016. Kiza for us is a home, showcasing the best in and out of Africa through sight, sound and taste. So, we say, here the spirit of Africa comes alive, we showcase the culture of Africa to over 200 nationalities that live in Dubai. It’s a fantastic platform as it is home away from home for Africans, Afrocentric people and all black people. The name Kiza means blackness.

How has the journey been so far…?

It’s been very interesting. When the whole vision began in 2012, there were very few African restaurants here on this scale. We have the old restaurants in Dubai, Kenyan restaurants, Ethiopian restaurants, etc. To this scale where you are bringing it to the top end in town, it’s never been like this, so we are kind of pioneers in this area as well.

It’s been a progressive trajectory since the business started in 2012.  More people, even non-Africans have adopted our style and culture, including Afro-beats. We are the custodian of Afro-beats here in the UAE. Our music, food and culture, and everything to do with Africa. We have also supported a lot of African artists as well.

Give us an insight on running and sustaining a business in Dubai

It’s like running a business anywhere in the world but we have an advantage here because everything works. Infrastructure is first-class. The government is forward thinking so they create an enabling environment for you to showcase whatever idea you have, so it’s been quite interesting.

What is the cost of entry into any business in Dubai?

It depends on what level you want to play. It’s so relative and a lot of it has to do with location. Most of your expense will come from rent and HR. If you want to play at a top level, you have to put in good investment to be able to represent properly.

2020 came with a lot of unprecedented events, how were you able to sustain your business during the pandemic?

It was a shock for everybody. No one prepared for it. We ended 2019 on a high spirit, started the new year in a fantastic way too, January and February. And then the whole thing hit in March and since then it’s been quite tough. Because it now had a spiral effect on different businesses especially in the hospitality sector. But as the saying goes as the time gets tough, you get tougher.

 

What was Dubai Government’s Response to Businesses during the pandemic?

The Dubai Government did a lot of support schemes for businesses like grace period for rents and loans. They were quite supportive, and we can see that they’ve shown very high leadership in the handling of the pandemic. Where most of the world was shut down, Dubai reopened quite long before anybody, as they managed the situation quite professionally and revolutionary. Dubai completed 80% of its population vaccination exercise in record time.

What’s your advice to new entrants into the hospitality business in Dubai?

Like any other business, you have to understand the market. There’s still room for innovation and creativity but you need to be passionate about it and be prepared. The restaurant business is one of the toughest and the standards here in Dubai is very high, so you have to be ready, no cutting corners.