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The Insider Spotlight: International Hospitality Kingpin Paul Evans

Bringing you a sneak peak into the inner world of local and international resorts and restaurants – and industry players’ lives. 

This month, The Insider had an engaging conversation with Paul Evans, a visionary entrepreneur who has left an indelible mark on Dubai’s hospitality scene. Founder of premium venues in Egypt and homegrown venture Papas Bar in the noughties, Paul has taken the city by storm with iconic establishments like Koyo, Blended on the Palm, Lock, Stock & Barrel, award-winning Asia Asia, and miami-esque The 305 beach club. 

With a recently announced super slick Solutions team HQ at Atlantis the Palm, we grabbed an hour with Paul and his business partner Freek to get insights into their future plans and the origins of their thriving hospitality empire.

1. How was Solutions Leisure created in the UAE?

It all started staggering along a beach in Egypt. According to Freek, I agreed to back his dream of building a beach bar after a few too many. Now, I’ve got no recollection of whether that actually happened or not, but he still held me to our agreement the next day. Turns out it was probably the only decent drunken decision I’ve ever made!

Two decades ago, on the shores of Egypt, Freek & I started that vision. We wanted to create epic moments for people in Papas, our first little beach bar. Before we knew it, we’d built 19 venues across Hurghada, only then for the Arab Spring to come along and we lost it all. Picking up our families and leaving Egypt 2012, we thought everything was over. Arriving in Dubai, we were soon to learn it was just the beginning. Amidst the glitz and glam of clubs and flashy restaurants, we noticed a gap. People wanted to have the time of their lives any time, any day of the week.

So, we set out to build a dream and here we all are still going strong; creating the moments people live for. Acquiring Karma Kafe in 2013, we went onto launch Q43 – our first restaurant and bar, at the top of Media One hotel, followed by Asia Asia in Pier 7, and Lock, Stock & Barrel at the then-Tecom Grand Millenium Hotel. Today, we’ve grown to 12 concepts, 19 venues and counting, across the UAE, with exciting plans to take the group global in 2024. And we’re only just getting started.

2. We hear you worked with pioneering brands Ministry of Sound and Hed Kandi in Egypt – how does that compare to working in the UAE?

We brought the brands to the region in 2005, which played a major part in the establishment of Hurghada Beach as an entertainment and tourist destination on the shores of Egypt. And, the opportunity to, not only work with, but represent those brands on a global scale gave us the vision we run towards today – the passion for creating those moments. Similarly, it provided us the opportunity to gain the experience we needed to build the brands; to build the group, that is Solutions Group 2023 – both challenges and wins, understanding our consumer and their wants, as well as being able to forecast and set trends.

So, to answer the question, they are polar opposite experiences. One saw us running a brand in a region, the other, establishing trends, building wants and acting on needs to deliver award-winning concepts and experiences.

3. You’re opening new venues on a regular basis, what future plans do you have for further expansion?

We have some epic things to come in 2024, with a view to take some of our big boy brands global. We’ve been extremely fortunate that, since the pandemic, we’ve had the opportunity to restructure, re-plan and really focus on what we want and how we were going to get there. That meant bringing in new management, new divisions, facing our past mistakes head on and really evaluating our achievements to date.

It also meant moving out of our comfort zones. Expanding from the 6 venues we had to the 19 we have at current wasn’t easy – it was risky, exhausting and pushed the limits of, not only our own capabilities, but the team’s. But, more so, it enabled us to build the rockstar group of professionals we have under our umbrella today. They are dependable, driven and self-motivated, sharing the same dream that we have. And that’s what we need to step into this next chapter – an unbreakable team of passionate professionals to take us to the next level.

4. Do you think that the Dubai market is or could ever be over saturated? And how do you propose to navigate that possibility?

Not over saturated, but, perhaps, underdeveloped as it stands. By that, I mean that we need to think about what’s next for the hospitality sector – what’s next for our market? Yes, the diversity of the brand experiences is still there. We have everything from ghost kitchens to casual eateries; immersive and experiential dining, to super high end, and then the approachable casuals and middle man musts. But, with dinner shows and vibe dining on every corner, I think the city is ready for someone to introduce something new. Who knows – maybe we’re about to do that?

5. What has been the defining moment of your career as a leading hospitality and leisure entrepreneur?

I can’t really place one. I am extremely humbled and fortunate to have been recognised amongst a number of awards, in panels and through media articles, like this one, and the success and growth of our brands. But, I don’t feel like I have had that defining moment as of yet. More so a number of little experiences. Like witnessing the passion, dedication and unwavering loyalty from team members. Watching some of our first employees become partners and directors. The invitation to partner with some of the world’s leaders, like Atlantis and Rixos, and the slow but consistent increase in interest for us to take on projects across the world markets.

I think that, if I accept there to have been a definitive moment, that would be like finally feeling like I’ve made it. Which I don’t think I have. I said it before – we’re only just getting started. We’ve practised, failed, got back up and practised again. And now, we’re ready for the big stuff. As long as you’ve got air in your lungs, you can go again. Ask me again in five years. Right now, the door’s only just opening. 

Interested in hitting up a Solutions Leisure venue? Check out a full list here or follow Paul Evans on Instagram

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