Mahmoud Bartawi admits that he hasn’t always had a great relationship with healthy food – it was only in recent years that he realised the importance of a healthy diet.
“I was forced to eat fruits when I was a child and developed a fear of fruits because it was always associated with a negative feeling,” he says. “I have always been athletic. However, eating healthy was not a habit I was accustomed to. After spending countless years of my life exercising, I realised that the easiest way to look good was to eat right.”
Further research on the importance of healthy food prompted the father of three to partner with a friend to set up Under500, a healthy-food cafe concept based in Dubai.
Under500 is a venture that the 32-year-old and his childhood friend Fadi Ghaly developed after the pair realised there was a gap in the market for an ”affordable, great-tasting, healthy-food concept”.
“Looking at the obesity rate in the UAE, and the limited and expensive options around, we decided to dedicate hard work to setting up Under500,” Bartawi says. Under500’s selling point is that its menu items all contain fewer than 500 calories.
“So far the feedback is positive,” he says. “My vision is to develop it commercially and financially into the top three healthy-food brands in the region by 2021.”
At its two Dubai locations – Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Business Bay – the most popular dish is proving to be the chicken and sweet potatoes, Bartawi says, while his own personal favourite is the chicken burrito bowl.
“If customer service is our main business, then seeing a happy customer would be the most rewarding part,” he says.
When Bartawi, who holds a degree in business from the American University of Sharjah and a master’s in international business from the University of Wollongong in Dubai, isn’t dedicating his time to his culinary pursuit, he works as a corporate banker.
The Dubai-based entrepreneur says he’s driven by the leadership of the country and inspired by his late father.
“Little did I know that the long conversations I would have with my late father would become the ringing voice in my head when I grew up; the conscience that alerts me to do the right thing,” he says. “In line with the UAE’s vision for 2021, we have decided to be a part of facilitating the change, and our contribution will be to see the obesity rate come down, [and] the life-expectancy rate and the happiness factor go up.”
Under500 currently employs 25 people, and according to Bartawi: “The sky is the limit”.
What‘s your favourite travel destination?
Anywhere that’s green, because peace is found in nature.
What four things do you always have with you?
My phone, wallet, keys and my faith in God.
What sort of car do you drive and what does it say about you?
A BMW 4 Series. I guess it says: “Catch me if you can.”
Do you have a mantra or motto that you live by?
My late father once told me that happiness is a state of mind. If you can write down all the things that make you happy, and spend your day working towards them, then you end up doing things that make you happy.
What‘s your favourite movie of all time?
Scarface, because every man wants to achieve.
What do you enjoy doing during your downtime?
I take a dip in the sea almost every day, and playing soccer and going to the gym are things I do to stay healthy.
If a film was made about your life, who would play the lead role?
I would play the leading role, and my experiences would dictate how I would handle different situations. In the end, God would decide my fate.
If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A lion, because a lion is always ready to stand his ground when it comes to what he believes in.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps?
Plan first and then do later.
Who inspires you and why?
Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid [Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai], because of his drive to push all of his people to excel in anything that they choose to do. With a leader so strong and dedicated, it gives me the inspiration to be the best that I can be.
Source: art & life