WHITER SHADES OF ALE

Lebanon 2013 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Tony Habre, CEO of Addmind, on creating the right entertainment venues in Lebanon and abroad.

Tony Habre
BIOGRAPHY
Tony Habre graduated from the American University of Beirut in 2000. He immediately began his career in hospitality, creating and managing one of the first successful pubs, marking the grand debut of Lebanese nightlife. Today, he manages a portfolio of 10 of the most prominent venues in Lebanon.

What are the advantages of Lebanon as a regional entertainment hub?

The main advantage is the people themselves, who take pleasure in socializing and enjoy spending money. In addition, of course, there are the diverse outdoor venues, while in the summer it's difficult to resist the call of the beach. The entertainment business is kept alive by ordinary people who run their own businesses, rather than by major investors. The bars are usually run by the owners themselves. Many young people who started from scratch ended up opening their own premises, and hence the market tends to be more local than big-chain oriented. This adds a personal flavor to the entertainment scene. It is also quite unlike the regular scenario in Europe, where the streets feature anonymous huge bars without a personal story.

What makes the Lebanese customer unique?

Lebanese people are very open minded and accept changes in entertainment, but not in terms of culinary taste. They enjoy eating Lebanese food, and that is why all of the restaurants have the same menus. Lebanese food is excellent. However, this aside, the entertainment sector is open to music and anything new. That is why Lebanon cannot easily be compared to other tourist destinations. People enjoying the nightlife today have been doing so for the past 10 years in an atmosphere of familiarity. This makes for a very local market where people tend to know each other. Tourists usually tend to mingle and dance, but that is not really the case with the locals. It is a very small community. A couple of years ago, the situation was different because there were many more tourists. On another level, Lebanon would clearly suffer without the regular contribution of Lebanese expatriates. Few understand that the Lebanese economy has been floated on families' wealthy children living abroad, or by the comfortable uncle or aunt who pays the bills. These expatriates absolutely sustain this country. In short, Lebanese people are eager to spend, and love to party.

What makes White different from other clubs in Lebanon?

White is a more fun and cozy place compared with other entertainment venues in Lebanon. We stage dance shows regularly, and our primary mission is to ensure that our customers are having fun. This concept was borrowed from my sister, who is the official architect at all of our venues. She created the name and the concept of White. The name itself comes from the fact that the club is located on a rooftop, and can be lit with different colors. However, we usually use white light to illuminate the dark night around our customers. Being surrounded by light creates a certain positive vibe. White is more appealing for an open-air venue in stark contrast to the subterranean atmosphere of clubbing venues that some find dark and unwelcoming. In fact, for this reason, White is appealing to all generations. In addition, we play a chilled and commercial music set, compared to the usual clubs, where “underground" music is the norm. We are not in the market for heavy music, but seek our customers' happiness. People dance much more at White than at other venues, largely because of the choice of music.

Is Addmind planning to open any new venues abroad?

We are opening Iris in Abu Dhabi on Yas Island, where the Formula One event takes place, a truly beautiful location. Additionally, we opened a club similar to White in Dubai on August 22, 2013. In Lebanon, the market is already saturated, so we are currently brainstorming ways to expand in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai. The problem is that the Lebanese market experiences many up and downs. Indeed, 2013 has been a notably unsuccessful year in terms of profits. In light of this instability, when volatility arises, we have to close, which means 300 employees have lost their income. This happened to us during the war. In contrast, however, when business comes, it booms. The huge number of customers we receive during boom years is practically unbelievable.