How Business Of Compassion Turns Into Food For Thought

By Alvin R. Cabral Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several UAE restaurant owners describe the difficulties of getting through COVID but also the compassion displayed by colleagues and associates. It inspired entrepreneur Cristine Caringal-Melad to make a special effort to hire staff who have been displaced from their jobs due to the pandemic.

Dubai

For Cristine Caringal-Melad, working her way up the food industry ladder meant chopping, literally, her way to success.

That also resulted in the 34-year-old -- now an entrepreneur for almost a decade in the UAE and back home in the Philippines -- licking her chops as she went from venture to venture. But in a method that is, most of the time, overlooked by many.

"As management, you just don't start a business for the sake of earning money -- you should be aware that you have to give back to the community," she told Khaleej Times. As such, venturing shouldn't be done just from a pure business perspective: "There should be a deeper meaning why you do certain things," she adds.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the business world to tread waters never before seen. The UAE, for all its robust business landscape, wasn't spared. Yet the government was able to draw up strategies to help businesses and keep the economic engine running -- no matter how difficult the situation was.

Data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs' National Economic Register showed that between the end of April and July -- the months when the UAE were under varying degrees of movement restrictions to contain the outbreak -- 17,597 business licenses were either issued or renewed, growing month-on-month. Stay-at-home orders began towards the end of March. On the flip side, it's no secret that the pandemic claimed not only a number of businesses but innumerable jobs as well.

'Domino effect' While indeed the pandemic compounded efforts to start or continue businesses, the support of the UAE government -- via their incentives and relaxations of certain regulations -- were huge and inspiring for entrepreneurs such as Caringal-Melad's.

Her latest venture, a seafood restaurant called Spice Grill in Sharjah's Al Majaz area, can be considered going full circle of sorts given the current situation.

They were granted a license in February following conceptualization that started in August and contract-signing in January. Of course, like anyone else, their plans hit snags -- several of them -- when coronavirus hit, forcing them to delay the project for almost six months; they are slated to finally open by the end of October.

But during the months everything came to standstill, Caringal-Melad and Lourds Adalia-Evertse, her business partner and first-time entrepreneur, kept moving, not just to keep planning alive but also to resurrect -- figuratively speaking and in their own little way -- that other integral part of running a business: Hiring staff -- but doing so to those who were displaced from their jobs due to the pandemic.

"We ourselves were affected by the pandemic," Adalia-Evertse said. "So we came to a point that we thought to ourselves, 'why not prioritise those who became jobless?"

That affected part was also just all-too-familiar for their newly-hired staff.

"My former company told us to wait for their call after two months. but then we received an e-mail telling us to look for new jobs because they had no clients," chef Lloyd Mark Reyes recalled.

"I had interview opportunities, but I had to go through an agency and needed to pay between Dh100 to Dh220 just to be interviewed -- but no guarantee of getting a job," barista Rosalie Adalia added.

"I contacted 100 firms -- more than that, literally -- but no one came calling."

'Super support' Several analysts and studies have indeed said that the new normal brought about by Covid-19 has shifted means on how to sustain businesses. It has also, apparently, transformed how concerned parties deal with each other:

In Caringal-Melad and Adalia-Evertse's case, it morphed into an ecosystem of cooperation, which was anxiety-filled yet pleasantly surprising.

The partners recall how the dynamics have changed -- and how "people became more compassionate". Adalia-Evertse says they had smoother discussions with their suppliers and received "super support" from Sharjah Municipality and the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, the entity known as Shurooq and whose land their restaurant is being built on.

"We talked to everyone properly and were very honest with them; if you communicate properly, then there would be a domino effect," she added.

"Even our PR team did their job for us -- at a very generous discount," Caringal-Melad quipped. The whole situation is, then, creating an environment where trust in each other and helping everyone out, which in turn keeps the business cycle going.

Others in the industry share the same sentiment.

"This pandemic has tested the true fundamentals of the human fabric. But in times like this, it has been heartening to see a key human emotion spread across all business transactions especially in the F&B sector -- empathy," Yash Bhargava, director of business development, Basil and Spice Catering, told Khaleej Times.

"The majority of suppliers were willing to sit across the table and renegotiate payment terms and providing alternate low cost solutions to existing products. This gave the F&B operators a lifeline and critical impetus to their cash flow."

"No doubt, the pandemic has disrupted businesses and supply chains all over the world. At the same time, humans have become more compassionate and empathetic either business owners, employees or suppliers," added Rohit Kakde, a serial entrepreneur and founder-CEO of Kakde Kitchen.

"With regards to relationships with these, specifically suppliers either international or local, there were no concessions or relief as such due to impact on cash flow but surely negotiations in terms of payment cycles, and compromises with the delayed supplies was good enough to keep it going with the continued faith and trust in each other."

Caringal-Melad, meanwhile, has already established restaurants in Dubai and Manila, plus a salon in the former, her very first venture in the UAE back in 2010.

She says while knowing the needs of the market is essential to run a business, being aware of workers' needs is just as important -- especially at a time like this when uncertainty hangs over like a dark cloud.

And for all the chops she's made, there's one Caringal-Melad would rather not do.

"Even if my salon is just breaking even at most, I refuse to shut it down," she says.

"I don't want my staff to lose their jobs."  ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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