How BiCE has remained a Dubai institution
Despite the fact that new restaurants throw open their doors on an almost weekly basis in Dubai, there are not many restaurants that can claim legacy status. One of those is unmistakably the Italian restaurant BiCE (pronounced: Bee-che).
Having opened its doors in 2000 in the Hilton JBR which was - at the time - an underdeveloped outpost of Dubai, the elegant, dinner-only restaurant has witnessed (and withstood) an construction boom to rival any in history happening on its doorstep for the past 17-years.
For Raffaelle Ruggeri, the CEO of the BiCE group - whose global network now spans 15 restaurants - sat down with Esquire Middle East to discuss the secrets to the famous restaurant's success, and explains where the name comes from...
Who is BiCE?
She was my grandmother, Beatrice Ruggeri. She was a remarkable woman, who was known in Italy as the “Queen of hospitality”. In Italy there is an award called “il cavaliere di lavoro”, it is so prestigious that it is only presented by the government every five years. She was presented it twice.
That is rather impressive. What did you learn from her?
We were always raised to understand that hospitality was to make the guest feel at home. They pay you for the food, but your job is to make them feel as welcome in your restaurant as they would be at their home. We’ve been doing that here in Dubai for 17 years. Unlike other restaurants, we’re not a chef brand. Chefs come and go, but that level family hospitality remains constant.
Raffaelle Ruggeri, CEO BiCE Restaurant Group
Do people still only recognise Italian cuisine as pizza and pasta?
Today, with the Internet, even people in Kathmandu know what good Italian food should be! So there is no hiding. Our menu is 70% classics, with our goal to produce legitimate Italian food that Italians would eat. Our challenge is to that level across 15 restaurants globally. The fact that many of our restaurants have been open (and successful) for so long is evidence that we know what we’re doing.
You currently have 15 restaurants around the world. What makes BiCE in JBR so special to you?
It signifies the success of the brand. It was when brought BiCE to the rest of the world. In 1987, New York was the hub that made us want to start rolling out franchises in the 1990s, a decade later Dubai was the same thing, the next big step for us. There are so few restaurants that have been running for 17 years, especially considering how fast things change here and the culture of ever-changing staff. We have 15 restaurants around the world, but there is something about JBR that is special because what it did for us as a company.
How did you manage to survive the recession when so many others didn’t?
I think the secret is that we have only ever relied on two percent hotel guests. The vast majority of clients have been people living here. We were the first ones to open up in JBR and people still appreciate those roots. Today, the challenges are much different. There is so much traffic in JBR that people are deciding to go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how good our food is, convincing people to come down and sit in traffic is a big challenge. Our challenge is not about reputation, it is about access.
Tell me something unexpected…
When somebody makes a complaint about any of our restaurants via our website, that email goes straight to me! I think that if people spend their hard-earned money on a nice dinner out and aren’t happy, the least they deserve is the person in charge to listen to them. We’re never claim to be perfect, but I do claim to take responsibility for what we as a brand represent. Thankfully we don’t get too many of them!
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BiCE, Hilton JBR, Dubai. Open daily, 5.30pm to 2am. To book call +971 4 399 1111