In the demanding world of hospitality, it takes the most tenacious and agile of individuals to rise to the top of their game and stay motivated to grow. Rise up Panchali Mahendra, managing director of Atelier House – a full-service hospitality consultancy firm delivering world class expertise based here in the UAE. We sit down with her to discover what the industry looks like post-pandemic and what her experience can bring to the table to keep the local F&B scene alive and thriving.
Hospitality is clearly your passion. Why so?
I get paid to eat, travel and drink. Who wouldn’t want such a career? Hospitality is one among the few multifaceted industries where you learn a little of everything rather than just being a master at one. I get to do creative designing, construction supervision, cooking, hiring, training and get to wear so many feathers in my hat that it ticks all my credentials. This is the reason for my passion. The feeling of creating something new from the scratch every time and developing it into success is very motivating and thrilling. I like that adrenalin!
Having worked your way to director level in a male-dominated industry what are the key lessons you have learned?
It has been a tough ride, but I never played the underdog. I knew if I worked hard enough with integrity and honesty, and always kept an open mind and attitude to learn and absorb, I will achieve my milestone sooner than later. I never allowed anyone to undermine my potential because I knew my academic and experiential roots were solid. One of the biggest lessons, I learned and always carry with me is to always remember who supported me on my initial career path and I always take them along. Having said that, CEO Ahmass Fakahany has been my biggest supporter and never for a day made me feel of opposite gender or any less professionally. This is one of the reasons, I am where I am because the reality also is, a male entrepreneur believed in me.
You’re essentially in a people’s business. What makes people tick in your opinion when it comes to positive hospitality experiences?
Rawness and honesty in your brand. The world is going through heightened self-awareness and a humbling phase, and I feel it is important to stay true, empathetic, graceful, and very flexible to guests’ needs.
Your industry took a particularly hard hit during the global pandemic. What stage do you feel it is at now and how do you see things progressing?
I feel the UAE F&B industry bounced back very quickly and is on a steady growth path. It is performing year on year at higher revenue generation and profits. With Expo 2020, IPL, World Cup coming up, the industry is going to see significant scaling and traction. Like I tell everyone, UAE F&B is right now the prime-time television show with the highest rating as the whole world is watching us and participating. The level of dining and brands in the city that have emerged given an example of Marea DIFC our Italian Michelin star brand from NYC and other concepts that are in the pipeline are going to take over the city to the top 10 global Food Index.
You were the first woman in hospitality to receive the UAE Golden Visa. How did it make you feel, and how will you find this particularly beneficial for yourself and society in general?
It has been a very humbling experience. To me, this shows that a true testimony of hard work never goes unnoticed. I do feel there is something right I am doing to have been awarded such an honor in the early stages of life. Given the veteran and legends I know personally in the industry and to have received before them is the biggest award. I shall continue to do keep the same momentum as I don’t think I can work any harder. This visa has given me a huge sense of stability and stamp that I belong here and can call this my second, rather first, home!
How can young women find their voice, change perceptions, and progress in business?
Education is the primary source. Reading and keeping up with the political, economic, and financial structure is very important. Another crucial thing is to never start a business without first getting your hands dirty. I’d advise getting out there and living your dream career to understanding the real pros and cons and not just doing desk research.
What sets Atelier House apart from your competitors?
We work on only those projects that we truly believe in. I do not believe in having a race. We believe we are creating and not mass-producing. Each project showcases our passion in true essence for the detailing we do as this can only happen if you choose quality over quantity. Plus, AHH has a very strong management structure with some of the top key players in the USA and UAE markets. We believe strong minds and potential can produce world-class concepts and brands.
What is your favorite hospitality anecdote of all time?
We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen!