“We didn’t leave anyone behind – neither our staff nor suppliers and not even our customers. COVID-19 has taught us the importance and the power of facing a crisis together,” states Haider Madani, owner of home-grown Cassette Café that opened in February 2019 at The Courtyard in Al Quoz, Dubai.
Even as this home-grown brand was temporarily closed for almost two months, Madani was firm about not letting his people go. This despite the fact that rent, salaries and inventory are among the highest overheads for an F&B business.
“Our team members have been with us since we opened Cassette; they play a key role in our success. They are the ones who have built great relationships with our guests. It was our firm decision to not make a single member of our team redundant,” he shares. “We decided to plough back the profits we made from the business to look after each other. Our team members decided to not take too many leaves when we reopen the café. We were convinced that once we reopen, we will work hard together to bring back our guests and revenues. Today, I can proudly say that we’ve achieved our goal. What’s more, we have been able to reward some of our team members for their efforts by raising their salaries.”
The Cassette Café prides itself on being consistent in the high-quality, all-natural and fresh food it offers to guests.
“When the movement restrictions were still on, we faced some issues with supplies, as they increased prices of products from day-to-day. But we decided to stick with them, instead of finding new partners, because we value the relationship that we’ve built. We understood that demand was high and they faced some roadblocks in bringing in the produces,” Madani points out. “Having that said, our model is mostly dependent on local produces, which saved us from major disruptions. At our end, we restructured our inventory and purchase patterns. Our chef intelligently reshuffled the menu in a manner where the fresh produces could be used in multiple dishes. In addition, we delivered food to those in need, which helped us to contribute towards a meaningful cause, while minimising food wastage.”
Usually, a high traffic, prominent and mall-based location is considered as an advantage for a café or restaurant. But as COVID-19 hit, the rules of retailing rapidly transformed. Post-lockdown, as restrictions were lifted, people still preferred less crowded locations. That served as an advantage for Cassette Café, situated at The Courtyard – often considered a ‘hidden gem’.
“We reopened Cassette on May 4, the first day of Ramadan, which meant for a month our footfall was low as a section of our loyal guests was fasting. Having that said, for most of our guests, Cassette is the first place they dined at post-lockdown,” Madani shares. “It was a huge relief for us to see that guests trusted our space, our staff, our food and the precautionary measures that we followed abiding by the COVID-19-related health and safety guidelines.”
Moreover, the Cassette Café model isn’t dependent on tourists. “We have almost 67% regular diners who visit us three-four times a week. Post-pandemic, we have actually increased the number of our regular visitors over the past two months,” Madani reveals. “Before the pandemic, we used to have a waiting list over weekends; now we see people waiting even during the week, which isn’t due to reduced seating capacity. In fact, we have doubled the restaurant space to 4,000 sqft in total, while minimally reducing the capacity from 110 to 98.”
“What we have focused on is building trust by ensuring the highest level of safety and comfort for our diners, so they feel confident to visit us multiple times in a week. It has worked well for us, as now we are serving 300-350 daily guests during the week, which goes up to 600-700 over the weekend, also driven by the fact that a smaller number of residents are travelling this year. Add to that our new designated pet-friendly tables, which are mostly full,” he adds.
Madani also applauds the “fantastic” landlord of The Courtyard who delayed the rent, which was a great help. “Today when I look back, it gives me a sense of contentment that we didn’t leave anyone behind. The pandemic has taught me that we mustn’t forget our people, our relationships and that it is crucial to give back,” Madani concludes.