With all that Joey Ghazal has accomplished in the last decade, it’s a surprise that the multihyphenate gets any sleep at all. Not only has the Canadian-Lebanese “gastro-preneur” launched eight restaurants and bars from the ground up across multiple cities—including carving out a bespoke “New England brasserie” category to describe his flagship brand, The Maine. Ghazal also owns a hospitality operations and design company called Fighterbrands, and earlier this year, co-founded The Dubai Oyster Project, a sustainability initiative that aims to repurpose discarded oyster shells from restaurants into building blocks that help coral reefs off the UAE shores. And with more projects on the horizon, his appetite for forward motion is nowhere near being satiated.
HAP spoke with Ghazal to learn more about the building blocks that contribute to his success, the places that forever inspire him, and why Dubai incubates savvy entrepreneurship like nowhere else in the world.
As one of the Middle East’s most successful celebrated restaurateurs, you’re famously involved in every aspect of your culinary destinations, from design and architecture to menu curation. How did you get your start?
I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 25 years, starting as a waiter in Montreal at the age of 17 and working my way up the ladder. I spent my twenties learning every aspect of the business, absorbing everything like a sponge, from site selection, interior design, kitchen layouts, menu development, training, corporate governance, marketing, and branding.
I spent my thirties opening eight of my own restaurants and clubs—failing as much as I’ve succeeded. It took me almost five years until I hit my stride, building my confidence and figuring out what exactly I wanted to say. The restaurant business is one of the only careers that require both the left brain and right brain; it’s equally finance and process, led equally as much as it is creative and artistic.
Why would you consider Dubai a boon to emerging entrepreneurs, especially those in the hospitality field?
Living in Dubai for as long as I have, you learn to dream without limits. It’s a city with unbridled ambition and is infectious in that sense. Dubai has the highest number of restaurants per capita in the world and you have to be at the top of your game to succeed here. For years, Dubai has been importing concepts from abroad, so I’m very proud that The Maine is the first home grown concept to start in Dubai to be exported internationally.
Knowing that The MAINE’s “New England Brasserie” concept is rooted in your childhood memories of traveling to coastal Maine from Montreal, what do you recall most fondly from those visits?
Those summers I spent in Maine are some of my fondest childhood memories. Those road trips from my hometown of Montreal are imprinted in my mind. It is the perfect slice of Americana and represents perfect summers. I very much wanted to create a brasserie that captured that nostalgia: a place that’s familiar and authentic, and transported you to a vacation you once took.
The Maine is heavily inspired by the boisterous American taverns from the turn of the century, which were inspired by the great brasseries of Paris, and fused with the sensibility of an English gastropub. The revival and reinterpretation of those old-world traditions are what has contributed to the success of the brand.
What are some other favorite destinations and hotels that serve as fountains of inspiration for past and future projects?
I am definitely a foodie traveler and will only travel somewhere if I know there is a notable food scene. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a brasserie in Paris—people watching, enjoying a dozen oysters, a bottle of Chablis and a steak frites. Montreal also has one of the most exciting food scenes. I took many stylistic cues from there, and am always inspired by those renegade Montreal chefs that still dominate the dining landscape of the city. They have this attitude towards food and produce that I have yet to find in another city.
You launched The Maine Mayfair in London less than one year ago—how does the venue stand out from any other gastronomic and nightlife experience in the city?
The Maine Mayfair is so much more than just a restaurant. It’s the graduation of The Maine from a restaurant company into a lifestyle brand. Its five rooms split across three levels of a Georgian townhouse in Mayfair. Blending together live music, performances, a grill, and a raw bar in five very distinct rooms—something rarely seen outside of institutional members clubs. It boasts the exclusivity and the lifestyle, without the pretentiousness.
Needless to say, it’s been an exciting (and busy!) last few years for you and your team. What can we look forward to next?
After three years of aggressive expansion—during which we tripled the size of the company—I’m taking some time to take stock, consolidate and streamline operations. I’m always open to new opportunities, but I’m more focused on enhancing the guest experience and brand building, writing a cookbook, and launching a membership program.
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