“I used to get a lot of funny looks from people when they realized that a 21 year old is managing a hotel.”

…It was scheduled to be a 1-hour meeting with Adarsh Kumar, 25, owner of Fuego (which is Spanish for fire), an upscale Mexican restaurant in Souk Al Bahar, Dubai. Instead it turned out to be a fun and frank 3-hour chat about things like entrepreneurship, social media, managing rowdy college kids, and of course, Fuego’s success. Adarsh’s path to becoming a successful entrepreneur was neither easy nor a conventional one. After graduating with an engineering degree from Purdue University he was faced with the question most graduates have to answer: what next? Life had other things in plan. The untimely death of his father meant that he had to take responsibility for a large UAE based holding group – this also involved managing the Karama Hotel at the young age of 21. But as I found out over the course of our discussion, success comes to those who work hard for it:

Tell me a little bit about yourself

Simply put, I am a ‘people’ person. Being able to interact well with people has made leadership easier for me. The only reason I was made Head Boy in school was not since I was the brightest student but because I could manage people. Having said that, I was a very shy kid. I would say the chance to serve as Head Boy improved my public-speaking skills and developed my ability to listen to and comprehend what people actually meant. After tasting leadership in school, I went into college and formed an Indian dance society. As President, this played a huge role in evolving my people skills since it involved convincing cranky, sometimes hung-over students to dance! It also gave me a certain level of maturity and the drive to succeed.

What motivated you to start Fuego?

Fuego is a passion project of mine. I am a huge foodie and love trying anything new and exotic that’s out there. Once I learned that space was available in Souk Al Bahar, I grabbed it with both hands. Mexican was the obvious choice for the concept because I love their cuisine. Also, I knew there was no authentic Mexican restaurant here. Mind you this was early 2012 and the only places that existed were Maria Bonita and Cactus Cantina, which actually served Tex-Mex.

You mentioned “authentic Mexican.” What does that mean exactly? Is there a core idea or value proposition behind Fuego?

When I say authentic Mexican, I really do mean authentic. What we do at Fuego is take original Mexican food and present it in a contemporary manner. For instance the south of Mexico, known as the Oaxaca region specializes in a sauce called a mole. To the western Baja California side you will find a lot of seafood. It is towards the northernmost part of Mexico where you get the food that is popularly known as Mexican cuisine – tacos, burritos and fajitas. What we do is present a variety of really good tasting, traditional Mexican food with a modern twist. And as a licensed restaurant this true Mexican experience is complemented with fancy tequilas and margaritas.

On that note, do people enjoy the experience you provide?

I’m very happy to say they do. A significant number of Mexicans are based in Abu Dhabi and a lot of them drive all the way to dine at Fuego! As it is much cheaper to retain existing customers than acquire new ones I’m glad that we have built a loyal fan base that keeps coming back for more. Our customers have actually become brand evangelists and shown us a lot of love. This is especially evident with our 4.2 rating on Zomato – one of the highest in our category. In fact, Zomato is the only place we have advertised so far. The truth is that many people do not know about Fuego and so we’re going to invest heavily in advertising this year.

With respect to advertising, how much has Fuego embraced the social-space?

We’ve embraced it wholeheartedly. While social media is extremely important to us, it is difficult to get it right. In my opinion a good social media campaign should always take itself lightly but be careful not to overstep the line. While we have tried to engage with customer comments and reviews, I will admit that it is slightly lacking; I would like to address this and make Fuego a very customer centric brand. For now though the plan is to utilize Facebook as our main social weapon of choice since we can deliver a targeted message with it. Zomato have also been good to us…

Can you elaborate more on the Zomato experience?

Fuego and Zomato share a great relationship. We aligned ourselves with them when they were just a 10-man team in Dubai. After my first meeting I immediately decided to advertise on their banner ad system. This was due to several reasons. First, they were huge in India at the time and I could predict that they would expand over the next few years. Second, they have some solid IT and a very good team in place. We were able to view and interpret all the analytics such as page views and click through rates. But the best part was being able to listen to calls (made through the Zomato app) and make the necessary improvements. Finally, their review system is brilliant; a brand simply cannot manipulate the reviews on Zomato. Their banner ads are also subtle enough not to obstruct what the customer is viewing and has provided us with significant word-of-mouth marketing as well. I highly recommend them.

What about future plans for Fuego?

We’re launching a delivery service soon in collaboration with Zomato’s Cashless app. You see, people have become fundamentally lazy! The prospect of paying for your food using a smartphone app is too mouthwatering to ignore I think. We’ve won the bid to represent Mexico in the Dubai Latin Fest next month in March. Finally, Cinco De Mayo which falls on the 5th of May, is always a big deal for us. Last year we held a massively successful party. This year we’re looking to mix it up.

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Looks like it’s busy times ahead for Fuego! Now for the fun five questions. Answer each in only one sentence.

Describe Fuego in five words.

Can I describe it in one? Awesome!!!

Most popular dish on the menu?

The freshly made guacamole with the lamb tacos.

Fuego’s signature drink?

The Jalapeno Cilantro is our signature drink – Time Out said we have some of the best drinks in the city.

Give me one shot you would recommend.

The Droga; Spanish for drugs. A flaming shot with patron café, Bacardi 151 and some cinnamon on the top.

Three course meal plus drinks. What’s the damage?

Between 300-400 Dirhams. Targeting those that are looking for a real Mexican experience.

Before we sign off, do you have some advice for any budding entrepreneur?

Believe in yourself. As a young entrepreneur who has experienced this myself, I feel that whenever someone wants to take initiative they are usually shot down. If you do take that chance you will have numerous setbacks. But in the end, all it takes is that one success to put you on the right track. And while natural ability will definitely help aspiring entrepreneurs along the way, the formula to success is simple: pure hard work combined with commitment to your cause.

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Karan Sharma
An about section? Here we go: Aspiring adman. Storyteller. Adrenaline junkie. Romantic. Music fan. Solo rider. Foodie. Positive vibes. Eccentric. I like to write about things as I see them and tell tales that are thought-provoking, that hopefully inspire change and are on the lighter side of things. Born in New Delhi, brought up in Dubai (where I currently reside) but my heart will always be in Lancaster, where I majored in Advertising.