The realities behind owning a successful micro-roastery.
Meet Dona Murad, the genius behind food concepts Hopscotch and Grind. Dona talks coffee culture in Bahrain and discusses the pros and cons of owning a micro-roastery versus a chain, especially during the pandemic. Interested in starting your own food concept? Don’t miss this informative interview below.
1. Describe yourself as founder of Grind and Hopscotch in BAH in one sentence.
Dona Murad, self-taught coffee roaster and croissant nerd.
2. Explain to us a day in the life managing both of the above food concepts.
My day starts at 6:30 am. A big part of running a bakery is that any problems you have to fix, need to be fixed before 8:00 am. You stay up all night work on something, bake it as close to consumption as humanly possible and hope it turns out right. You only know at the last second, and if your standards are high like ours it often means a lot of heartbreak.
After I check the production list for the day and make sure we have enough for the morning rush, I check the pastry display and take pictures to post to our social media outlets. I really like to greet customers myself. We are fundamentally a community space, having the owner on the floor connecting individually with regulars has been so important to keeping people coming back.
3. Define ‘traceable single-origin’ coffee versus global chain; what are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of owning a boutique versus operating as part of a chain
The advantages are variety and quality. At Grind, we carefully choose each bean, to make sure we are serving quality organic beans bursting with flavors, so sometimes this means ignoring the price tag. There are times that I choose an unprofitable bean but to me in the long run its more important to be known for quality and character. As a micro-roastery, I have the ability to form relationships directly with smaller farms, which creates trust and passion in the final product.
Regarding disadvantages, specialty coffee really requires educating the customer and a discerning palette. When we started it was hard to convince people our roast style was the correct profile coffee. Commercial chains perpetuated the overly sweet, whip cream, caramel, drinks trend, so clearly we had a lot of poor habits to break. Four years later, I am proud to call our customers, coffee snobs.
"Having the owner on the floor connecting individually with regulars has been so important to keeping people coming back."
4. Explain how you’ve created a lifestyle corner by including both Hopscotch and Grind in the same space; did you always have this plan?
I always loved the idea of having a bakery and coffee with their own distinct identities. Pastry, food and coffee are each a science of their own. Also, I had fun with having two projects to work on at the same time.
5. In general, how would you describe the way BAH consumers spend time in cafés compared to those in another GCC country such as UAE? Are there cultural differences? (e.g. behavioral observation re: type of orders, length of stay each time, sit individually and work versus socially with groups etc.)
BAH consumers, like many other cultures in the GCC, enjoy their cup of coffee, as it’s considered a social event. However, I have noticed our customers love to work from our space and enjoy their alone time. The space has created a sense of warmth where people dwell, read a book or work on a project on their laptops. I love seeing people come for coffee, have a meeting, then stay for lunch and continue working. Our shop really fulfills the third space theory as a community space.
6. The rise of food delivery has heightened in COVID-19 due to customers not wanting to eat out at restaurants. Regarding partnership relations between cafés and third party delivery platforms – how integral are they to cafés’ successes in reaching customers at this time? How have these relationships evolved during COVID-19?
I think it’s fair to say that many homegrown operators are disappointed with the way third party aggregators have failed to respond generously to this crisis. We have been really lucky to have the continued support of regulars so from the start we just decided to do delivery on our own. Often during the peak of summer I was personally doing delivery, it was nice for me to see our regulars and deliver to them, even from a distance.
7. In your opinion, rank the customer priorities during COVID-19 from 1-5 (1 being least important and being most important) 1) quality of food 2) price of food 3) cleanliness / sanitization of café 4) variety of food offerings 5) accessibility (both ordering via app or ability to find physical location):
They are all rated 5! People want to enjoy and trust what they are eating or drinking. However, our customers have been extremely understanding when it comes to changes in regards to having less items on the menu.
8. In your experience, what is the top marketing tool that attracts new customers to try your cafes?
In Bahrain, word of mouth and social media.
9. What’s next for Grind and Hopscotch?
Continuously evolve them and hopefully in the near future have many more branches.
10. What advice do you have for aspiring café owners searching for a new food concept to tap into?
Tap into your passion, ignore the noise and work your socks off.