Hashem Montasser, Founder of the The Lighthouse Restaurant & Concept Store in the UAE, is a raconteur who avidly follows the work of arts, culture, technology and, of course, food. In a series of conversations aimed at introducing its audience to the Middle East’s entrepreneurial landscape, Hashem asks his guests about their life journeys, inspirations, successes and failures and everything in-between. New episodes available every second Thursday.
Summer Throwback: Mohamad Ballout on positioning Kitopi as a global brand
In this throwback episode from 2020, we're joined by serial entrepreneur Mohamad Ballout, founder of Dubai-based foodtech pioneer Kitopi, currently the world's leading managed cloud kitchen platform. Founded in January 2018, Kitopi has quickly expanded to five countries, having added Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UK & the US to its roster after raising a successful $60 million Series B in funding this year.
Mohamad shares his thoughts on how he became a serial entrepreneur, how him and his fellow Kitopians are capitalizing on the foodtech’s startup’s first mover advantage and what it will take for the Middle East to produce & export global brands.
“Success is not only measured by financial results but also by cultural relevance.” Ahmad Al Marri on launching Canvas Gelato against the odds and why community support was crucial to his success.
This week, Hashem invited Ahmad Al Marri, Founder of Dubai-based ice cream brand Canvas Gelato to the hot seat. Launched in 2017, Canvas Gelato’s raison d'être is to produce ice cream that is made exclusively with “real” ingredients and delivered at negative 70 degrees celsius. Ahmad’s ice cream delivery concept proved successful and was soon supplied to major outlets including local chocolate maker darling Mirzam and featured by international media such as Monocle magazine. Ahmad shares the challenges he faced in the early days launching his business through WhatsApp and Instagram, and how the future of Canvas Gelato will boast a fully functional website and a potential physical location.
“Everyone has written off Dubai at one point.” Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim on how Dubai bounced back post-pandemic and what lies ahead for its culinary scene.
This week Hashem and guest host Samantha Wood aka FooDiva catch up with Issam Kazim, CEO of DTCM (Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing). “Not your typical government department,” as Issam puts it, DTCM catapulted the Emirate of Dubai from the early pandemic days through to the other side of lockdown with flying colors—all with stellar planning and marketing campaigns that involved the entire DTCM team and Issam at the helm.
Hashem and Samantha also ask Issam about how recent accolades such as MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants and The Michelin Guides affect the F&B and tourism sectors in Dubai. Issam explains DTCM’s role in bringing this international recognition to the city, what lies ahead for homegrown concepts, how to encourage them to thrive, plus his favorite restaurants in Dubai.
“Energy and lots of seasoning…that’s nafas.” Mohamad Orfali and his sensational culinary pivot from TV chef to award winning restaurateur…and what makes a really good mulukhiya!
Hashem catches up with Mohamad Orfali, TV celebrity chef extraordinaire, restaurateur and co-founder of the award winning Orfali Bros restaurant in Dubai. When a chance email to Fatafeat founder Youssef El Deeb led to the publication of Orfali’s cookbook and subsequent blockbuster cooking TV shows, a new TV celebrity chef was born. Orfali discusses the delicate balancing act of being in front of a camera vs. interacting with guests at his restaurant where he focuses on storytelling. We also delve deeper into Orfali’s experience working closely with his two pastry chef brothers, why he doesn’t believe in messing with tradition and what makes a really good mulukhiya!
The Lighthouse Conversations with Youssef El Deeb
“I’ve always been a strong believer in offering financial services to the unbanked.” Mounir Nakhla on turbo-charging growth at Egypt’s leading FinTech startup Halan
In this week’s episode we connect with Mounir Nakhla, CEO and Co-Founder of Egypt’s leading FinTech start-up ‘Halan’ (translated to: “right now”) which focuses on creating financial solutions for the unbanked and the under banked. Mounir shares snippets of his journey since 2017 when he was approached by Indonesian tech unicorn Gojek, then being struck by the pandemic in 2020 and what it meant for Halan’s growth. Hashem and Mounir also discuss the challenges that Mounir faced as a founder during a challenging macro-economic environment before reflecting on his strengths and weaknesses as a CEO; Halan’s hiring process including how to retain talent and creating common goals; what keeps him up at night; and the secret sauce of making decisions with a calm mind. A hint? It includes fresh air and the Taoist shadow boxing art, Tai Chi.
“The issue with progress is that it’s seldom linear.” Nadia Wassef on narrative structure, trafficking in nostalgia and life after publishing a debut memoir.
This week, we reunite with a previous guest; author and friend of The Lighthouse, Nadia Wassef. Since our first episode with Nadia, her well received debut memoir Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller has been published in several languages and Nadia is now preparing for her second narrative structure—but in a faster paced, post-lockdown world. Recorded in the Library Bar at The Lighthouse Abu Dhabi, our episode with Nadia revisits her experience during lockdown while writing Chronicles and how she found her narrative arc. She also shares her views on managing feedback constructively; and why writing should not be used by the author as a form of personal therapy.
Nadia Wassef on The Lighthouse Conversations (2021)
A breath of fresh air
These are interesting, free flowing, and honest conversations about art and culture in the Arab world. A niche subject perhaps, but quite accessible to the curious novice while managing to hold the interest of those with a little more exposure.
Reviewing the host/interviewer
Hashem is a natural conversationalist with a healthy curiosity and the occasional probing in pursuit of the essence of the story.
Deeply rooted in the oral traditions of storytelling in the region, you’ll find fluidity to the interview, and when a Segway is warranted, Hashem will add his narration/editorial note.