Beachroad Magazine head to JLT and meet Tahir Shah the founder and MD of uber-cool Pakistani Soul Kitchen Moti Roti.
NAME? // Tahir Shah.
YOUR FIRST JOB? // Telecoms Engineer at Nokia.
YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION // Founder/Partner at Moti Roti.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START MOTI ROTI AND ANY CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY? // I used to work in Media City, and we would always have the same conversation at lunch like 'guys ,where shall we eat today'. This was back in the day when all you had was Subway or the supermarkets. There wasn't a mature lunch culture like in other cities eg Chipotle in the States, Pret in the UK.
As for challenges, well i could write a book about that. It's been a Herculean challenge these past 5 years, but because of those very circumstances it forced me to start off differently. First as experimental popups (the first one actually in the very supermarket under my old office), then one of the first food trucks in Dubai, and finally opening our first location in JLT this year in April.
WHERE DO YOU SEE MOTI ROTIN BEING IN 5 YEARS TIME? // I want to be the go to delivery choice for Pakistani/Indian food. We are trying upend the perception of curry houses by doing away with oily over-spiced curries and making them modern, with superior ingredients, and more accessible by emulating a burrito-style concept.
WHY DUBAI? // Knowing in those days that the lunch game was not strong i really believed it was a perfect place to try Moti Roti. However, the idea of healthy curries was so niche in those days i had trouble defining myself. Especially embracing a strapline like 'Pakistani Soul Kitchen' and getting people to overcome their perception of what Pakistani food conjures up.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON DUBAI AS A CITY? // It's the ideal place to encourage innovation because of the very rich mix of cultures, plus an up and coming generation from previously settled expats. However the F&B scene is still not entrepreneur friendly, compared to say tech startups here. There is a lot of local young talent but it's so expensive to startup in food so barriers to entry are high. I hope this changes soon (i heard the DED are now implementing a fast track system for registering a business which is great). I would love to see a Hawkers style market business model like you see in Singapore, where several food entrepreneurs can share a space.
IF YOU WERE NOT RUNNING MOTI ROTI WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING? // Moti Roti is for me an expression of self, it's a way for me to evangelize my culture so people can see Pakistanis as normal, cool, and more than just scary men with beards, or cursing pickup drivers. I couldn't imagine doing something else.
WHAT DO YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT YOUR ROLE? // Not having to answer to anyone
WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO EAT, SHOP AND SOCIALISE IN DUBAI? // I perhaps speak for many entrepreneurs here when I say that I don't really shop and socialise much like i did when i worked in an office; in the early years of a business we are mostly too busy or too broke :)
However, when i get the chance i love to discover new F&B talent here. I'm a big fan of Shakeism, JLT has loads of cool hidden gems like Cafe Isan, i love what the guys at Raju Omlet do. Too many to mention in fact.
WHATS ARE YOUR TIPS FOR VISITORS COMING TO DUBAI? // I always prefer to tell people, don't go up the Burj Khalifa, you will see more sand and sea just from higher up. Better to go to the Dubai Fountains, enjoy the show and marvel at the Burj Khalifa from outside.
YOUR GREATEST LOVE? // Family.
YOUR GREATEST FEAR? // Feeling trapped by obligations and duties.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY? // I think trying to play football with a nappy.
WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY? // Dad. He taught us that people are not inherently bad, it's our job to better understand people.
WHO DO YOU RATE IN THE CULINARY WORLD? // My mum, Steve Ells, and Ray Kroc. In that order.
YOUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT IN DUBAI? // Ravi, still great after all these years.
YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO EAT OVEREAS? // I don't get to travel much nowadays, but whenever i go back to UK i try to fit in a trip to Dishoom at Kings Cross in London.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM RESTAURANT LOCATION? // In Dubai i would love to be in DIFC and Moti Roti fitted out as a Chipotle style roti bar. Otherwise in London somewhere in the East End.
WHAT IS THE LAST GIFT YOU GAVE SOMEONE? // Moti Roti t-shirts for my family when they were here for the shop opening. My dad got one saying 'Who's The Daadi' (which doesn't quite work as Daadi means Grandma :) and Mum one saying 'Aunty Says Relax'.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CHILDREN? // Please go to bed early (i only say that cos i hear kids screaming up and down the corridor where i live late at night).
YOUR WORST TRAIT? // Taking too long to say what's on my mind.
THE WORST TRAIT IN OTHERS THAT GETS YOU MAD? // Tailgating.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE? // Ranbir Kapoor.
FAVOURITE MUSIC // It's been a while since i've been into a band, however i've been rinsing the Baby Driver soundtrack lately.
LAST RECORD / DOWNLOAD YOU BOUGHT? // Baby Driver and Coke Studio (young Pakistani rock/funk/pop outfits doing modern renditions of old school folk songs).
FAVOURITE BOOK? // So many. The best book i ever read about business believe it or not, The Godfather.
LAST BOOK YOU BOUGHT? // The Power Broker.
THE CLOSEST YOU HAVE COME TO DEATH? // Crossing the road in Sharjah Industrial Area!.
FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // Japan.
LEAST FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // Glasgow.
HOW DO YOU RELAX? // When i get a day off, you can't get me out of my room. I'm happily binge-watching something.
ARE YOU SPORTY? // If you count Chess, then yes.
BEACH OR DESERT? // Neither, sand gets in everything.
URBAN OR RURAL? // Urban.
CATS OR DOGS? // Dogs.
LAGER OR BEER? // Neither.
COFFEE OR TEA? // Tea (Ahmad Tea teabags).
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH? // My mum when she's vexed and talking in English.
WHATS MAKES YOU CRY? // Not seeing a raised step and banging my toe.
YOUR MESSAGE? // Be free in your life, learn to be yourself, and learn to NGAF.