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Changing the way the world defines food

“I love food, I love exploring new food, tasting different kinds of dishes. I feel food binds people,” says Ms Rasha Al Danhani, founder of Papparoti, a cafe that needs no introduction. Born and raised in the UAE, Rasha had always dreamt about starting something of her own. Little do people know that she had worked in the banking and property sector before she stepped into her entrepreneurial shoes.

The road to success, however, wasn’t all that easy. Coming from an Emirati background where not many women ventured into unconventional lines back then, Rasha decided to create her own path. Her first independent venture was a marine themed spa which she ran for almost two years before she decided to launch Papparoti. At a point when the F&B market seemed quite saturated to many, she dived into the ocean with a concept, a dream, an ambition and most importantly - her spirit.


The start

Back in the late 2000s, Rasha had travelled to Malaysia when she stumbled upon ‘Papparoti’ which literally translated means ‘Father (pappa) of the buns (roti)’. She was so impressed by it that she decided to name her brand after it. Finally in 2009, the outpost opened its doors to food lovers with its first kiosk at the Dubai Mall and redefined cafe dining in the Middle East.


The Gap

Malaysian food, back then, wasn’t quite popular and there were no proper luxury cafes around which served great Malaysian food with a twist. Rasha so wanted to bring the taste of Malaysian food to the region that she decided to be the master franchiser of the brand for the entire Middle East. Since food is a necessity and people in the UAE love trying new food, Papparoti became an instant hit and kept growing from one point to another.


The Concept

Papparoti is where great food meets great price. Coming from a non-food background, Rasha understood the pulse of the market. Having launched Papparoti in a period of severe market crunch, she decided to work smart.

While Papparoti serves authentic Malaysian inspired food with a twist for the regional diaspora, it is also not too heavy on the pocket. “My vision was to offer the people of UAE a unique, fresh product that wasn't available in the market and with PappaRoti I was able to do just that,” says Rasha.

Moreover, the brand doesn’t target a particular age group but serves the tastes of all be it kids, teenagers, grown-ups or the elderly. The ambiance further adds to the charm of the brand as Rasha wanted to create a comfortable setting for people to dine at ease, a prominent factor which most of the kiosks didn’t have.


The Challenges

When Rasha launched the brand in the year 2009, UAE was already undergoing a severe financial crunch. People were not taking any risks with establishing new businesses, forget about launching an unheard product. Everyone wanted to play safe.“To be honest, I was advised against the idea by many people as 2008-2009 was the time the UAE was undergoing a severe recession, the market situation was bad and starting something new during the period was a risk, a risk I was willing to take and well, the risk paid off.”

The second challenge was the choice of the location. The Dubai Mall is undoubtedly a prime property, being the largest mall in the world. The space was very expensive and people advised her against opening the kiosk there. But Rasha was steadfast in her choice of location as she believed that being at the right place at the right time is important for a business to grow. Even as she overcame all the naysayers and opened her kiosk, exactly where she wanted, the challenge of making a success of her decision still loomed large, but not for long. As she had not invested any substantial money for marketing activities she was fully dependent on the product. And she indeed had a winner. The freshness, crispness and fluffiness combined to give it a great taste and soon people were thronging her kiosk.

The Expansion

After nearly a year of running the kiosk, she was pretty confident that the product would indeed succeed in whichever market it was launched in.  Soon the first Papparoti franchise outside of UAE came up in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today the number of outlets serving these delicious buns in the UAE has risen to 17 indicating the acceptance of the product.  Over the years new outlets have been opened in Oman and Kuwait in the Middle East. As far as the parent organisation is concerned Papparoti brand that started from Malaysia has since expanded across the world to India, China, Oman, Vietnam, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Australia, Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.

The Innovation

Consumers’ tastes keep changing and evolving with time and it becomes imperative for any food business to create new tastes not only to attract more customers but also to retain the existing ones. Rasha says, in keeping with this philosophy, “We're constantly innovating with our bun toppings and drinks that go alongside the bun. We have a set of drinks that come out every season, Summer, Winter and we also have a special selection of items for Ramadan.” 

Tips for startups

Talking about the steps entrepreneurs need to set up a successful venture, Rasha says, “Instincts play an important role while you plan to start a business.” These instincts should be followed by thorough research as research is the bedrock of all successful business initiations. Of course, proper planning and execution are also required to start a business and to take it on the path of success. She also opines that self-belief and conviction are of utmost importance for an entrepreneur and one should remain rooted in one’s beliefs and work constantly to accomplish his or her dreams irrespective of what others say.

The way forward

Talking about her plans for Papparoti, Rasha says that they would be introducing a new main product shortly in the market. Stopping short of divulging more details about the product, Rasha is confident that it would be lapped up by the customers. She also has plans to take the franchise to new countries and is in talks with interested parties.

The entrepreneur in her is not content with the success of Papparoti and she has exciting plans up her sleeves for more ventures. One such venture, "The 1978 Suite, a one-stop beauty salon has come into existence recently in Dubai. It has a number of beauty services under one roof, from nail, hair & beauty services to massages and Moroccan bath that would make ladies happy and rejuvenated.

She also plans to further expand in the F&B business and is in the process of setting up a fine-dine restaurant, “Micro,” in Dubai. She does not intend to stop here and has more concepts to work on in the future.