Buro 24/7 Exclusive Interview: Find Salt's founders Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam
The duo behind the eatery taking the UAE (and its royal family) by storm
Owing to strict municipality laws, gourmet food trucks were nonexistent in the UAE until two brave Emirati entrepreneurs set off on a mission to correct that. Enter Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam who were the first to debut a 'foodie concept on wheels' to the region, and have been intrinsic in starting a new trend ever since – with a couple of other food trucks popping up since they launched 'Find Salt' 37 weeks ago.
At first, Salt launched as a sort of 'gourmet treasure hunt' – the concept was simple but incredibly powerful and unprecedented for Dubai: Follow @FindSalt on Instagram, get the inside scoop on where the truck would be, rush there and enjoy the pop-up foodie heaven. Fast-forward a few months and the success of the project is obvious, not only do the duo now have a permanent residency at Jumeirah's beautiful Kite Beach, but both Sheikh Mohammed – Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, as well as his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan are fans and regulars. Recommendations don't really come better than that, do they?
"WE Did not want to be confined in a place, we wanted to reach out to people and locations that highlight specific lifestyles, for locals to feel like tourists, and tourists to feel like locals."
Buro 24/7's first 'Salt experience' came a little over a month ago, we headed to the Kite Beach location at its opening time of 12 noon on a normal, scorching hot Tuesday expecting for the eatery to be relatively quiet. What ensued was nothing short of extraordinary – with dozens and dozens of locals (some of which, arrived in government cars) and expats arriving and queuing in the hot midday sun. Seeing all of this, our anticipation for the food naturally grew, and we can safely tell you that the sliders were not only the best we have tried in Dubai – but in the world. Intrigued? We thought you might be, which is why it gives us great pleasure to present an exclusive interview with the founders and invite you to discover more...
Dubai's Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan and family at Salt earlier this year
Can you tell us about the concept behind Salt and why you chose to launch it?
We live in a fast-paced routine-driven world and we want to inspire people to pause for a moment and take things back to basics. Salt aims to bring people together to enjoy a simpler lifestyle, removing them from their demanding daily routines and diverting them from going to malls and fine dining restaurants.
How did you land on the name Salt?
We wanted a name that was simple and basic that everyone can relate to. Salt can be interpreted in two ways, firstly it refers to an ingredient that we cannot live without, secondly it is an enriching element that adds significant value to our lives. The community we have created around Salt are known as our 'Salters'. We took the time to observe what matters most to our community and with that knowledge, created the environment that gathers people around food, in exciting and unexpected locations inspired by their preferred lifestyles.
You have involved the public through your Instagram channel, so much so that, as you mentioned just now, your team and clients are called 'Salters'. How important is it for you to create a connection and a sense of community among your following?
Before ever revealing the truck, we initiated the #findsalt campaign to better understand our community and learn about their lifestyles and the values that matter most to them. The locations our Salters chose reflected their diverse interests and based on our findings we worked to create the perfect environment and unique experience for them.
Why a food truck?
Our mission is to fill the holes in the dining landscape, while constantly reinventing how people experience food reflecting the down-to-earth lifestyles valued by our Salters.
We did not want to be confined in a place, we wanted to reach out to people and locations that highlight specific lifestyles, for locals to feel like tourists, and tourists to feel like locals.
How do you create the menu?
We get an idea in the middle of the night, and try it the next day.
Since it is a street food concept, we wanted to include popular items that were small in size, fast to prepare and easy to eat. We use fresh locally sourced ingredients, which are delivered to us on a daily basis and we cook everything on site. We chose sliders rather than burgers because they offer diners more versatility by allowing them to mix and match their choices.
Talk us through the process of "idea to menu" – do you conduct many tastings and meetings for example?
Salt is beyond a food truck, we are not only selling food but an experience. Being one of the first in the region, we strive to establish a local brand that can compete worldwide. Our approach to launch Salt involved research, concept development, the exploration of various ingredients and unique flavours, product development, menu selection and tastings. An integral aspect of the process was the design of a cultural and lifestyle experience that involves the community across different ages and cultural backgrounds, bringing people together to enjoy a meal and the theatrics of street food preparation in the environments they most loved, to make the most of their experience.
What is the secret Salt sauce?
Fresh homemade sauce, with 15 ingredients – which are a secret!
"We use fresh locally sourced ingredients, which are delivered to us on a daily basis and we cook everything on site."
Were you surprised by the success of Salt?
Everyone gets excited for anything new in Dubai.
We wanted to grow organically, to maintain food quality and service and avoid the word "overrated". But people have been very supportive, we see Salters coming everyday and that's very rewarding.
What's next for Salt?
The roadtrip, hunting for new destinations and experiences. Salt's retail will reflect people's different lifestyles, and the destinations we choose.
Who does what in the partnership and how do your skills complement each other?
In the food industry there are two main elements of success – good food and smart design. Amal is a designer and she specialises in creating an experience for our salters, she looks into every little detail that a consumer can possibly touch. Deem has been in the food business previously and she brings in the operational know-how, product development and food creation.
What has been the greatest advice you have ever been given?
Stop listening, you will only learn from your own mistakes.
Sheikh Hamdan is a Salt regular
Did you know that Sheikh Hamdan was going to visit? What was that like?
We didn't know he was coming. The first day he saw the truck and came directly to the kitchen. The next day he came cycling and took his order. He is very humble and supportive and his favourite was 'The Hook'. His father, Sheikh Mohammed has also recently visited.
Dubai ruler and vice president of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed visits Salt
The Salt food truck is located on Jumeirah's Kite Beach and is open daily from 12noon – 10pm. Follow the project on Instagram here.