Al Marri believes one reason Salt remains successful is that she and Albassam maintain very hands-on roles. They haven’t hired managers to oversee their restaurants. As creative director, Al Marri handles marketing, branding and design, while Albassam oversees food development and operations. A Forbes Middle East 30 under 30 nominee, Al Marri never planned to be in the food business. “I got trapped,” she says.
Born and raised in the U.A.E., she studied interior design at Zayed University. “I’m very picky when I go into a space,” says Al Marri. “I like to reimagine it.” In 2011, a friend introduced her to Albassam. A native of Saudi Arabia, Albassam opened Switch in 2009, after earning a degree in marketing from the American University in Dubai.
The two hit it off, starting an events planning company with three friends. “We clicked,” says Al Marri. They hatched the idea for Salt, after wondering if a food truck could help with event marketing. They were also bored by the U.A.E.’s culinary scene. “Everybody is looking for something that is mysterious and new,” says Al Marri. “They want an experience.”
Nostalgia was another inspiration. Al Marri remembers a different city than the gleaming metropolis of today. “We used to go to the park, we used to go to the beaches,” she says. Now, going to air-conditioned malls and cinemas have replaced those pastimes. She felt a sense of simplicity was lost. Parker’s, their second venture, is a pop-up in Dubai’s Al Khazan Park. She and Albassam self-funded their operations.
With Parker’s, they also relied on social media to stir up anticipation. They staged a citywide scavenger hunt, hiding keys in parks and messaging clues on social media. Only people who found a key could get into the restaurant. Al Marri says they get franchise requests for Salt, and could expand faster, but they’re picky. “Any concept we launch, it has a story behind it,” she says. “It’s not just a restaurant.”