Opening a Portuguese business in Dubai
Curious about a country once considered a taboo and moved by the will of traveling, Natacha Matos moved to Dubai in 2004. She embraced a career as flight attendant with one of the Middle-Eastern Airlines keeping, at the same time, her dreams on track – “I always wanted to have a Portuguese coffee shop“. After 12 years, it´s because of Natacha and her hard working team that a wide variety of Portuguese traditional delicacies are available in Dubai at Alma 560 Café – a cosy and friendly bakery and coffee shop located at Gold and Diamond Park, Sheik Zayed Road.
“Alma” means soul in Portuguese. Natacha chose this name because the whole project mirrors the Portuguese culture.”560” it´s the bar-code for Portugal – everything that is made in Portugal has this code. Hence, Alma 560 was born – two concepts 100% Portuguese.
However, turning this dream into a reality wasn’t easy. Opening a small business in Dubai (such as Alma 560 café) costs the equivalent of opening a restaurant in Portugal or in other European country. The concept itself has to be very well established abroad – in Dubai the franchising concept overcomes entrepreneurship. When it comes to rent a space, there are several rules and standards to be accomplished, depending on the leasing entity. In this case, the demand for standards was quite high in all parameters – from construction materials to the products used on food preparation.
Managing suppliers can also be a challenge. All products available in Dubai are imported and may not be available at all times. “There are suppliers for each product, meaning that a small space like Alma has about 40 suppliers. It´s difficult to coordinate all together and keep the standards both in raw materials and final products” says Natacha. “For example, we ran out of beef ham so all menu items containing this product have to be adapted.”
Against all odds, Alma 560 Café is here to stay. With a totally different concept from other posh and luxurious places in Dubai, this little cute corner provides a homey ambience for all occasions. There´s freshly brewed specialty coffee and all kinds of Portuguese pastries sneaking out of the oven, thanks to Carlos Bruno – the pastry chef exclusively hired in Portugal to be part of this project.
This Portuguese corner already conquered customers from South Africa, India and England. Emiratis are slowly adhering and already named a few favorites: the bread, Caldo-Verde (a typical Portuguese soup), Bolo de Arroz (Rice Cake) and Guardanapo (a Portuguese napkin shaped cake filled with egg yolks and topped with sugar). However, Pastel de Nata (Custard Tart) is the winner – “Everyone falls in love with Pastel de Nata“.
To match it, the best coffee. At Alma 560 café everything is done with detail and maximum focus on quality – the freshest homemade products without preservatives. As a professional barista Natacha aimed for the same parameters for the coffee and works with a company that roasts it every 15 days.
Apart from being a dream that turned into reality, this project is part of something bigger for Natacha – the inner pride of being Portuguese and being able to share with the world what Portuguese culture and cuisine is all about. “It gives me immense joy to see and hear people eating a Pastel de Nata. There´s always a sound of pleasure and there has not yet been a person who does not like it.”
Photos | Natacha Matos
Maria Bonifácio Lopes