DINO FOI

Mozambique 2020 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

With Mozambique's first cloud bar as well as the first bottoms-up beer system, El Patron is transforming the local restaurant and nightlife scene one step at a time.

Dino Foi
BIOGRAPHY

Dino Foi is the CEO of El Patron, Maputo's newest fine dining experience. He is a well-known and highly respected entrepreneur in Mozambique, with an active participation in a number of ventures and initiatives. He also serves as chairman of various companies, including LM CLOUD SA, Cerberus Finanças e Consultoria, Foi Strategic Internacional, International Agrofoods Mozambique SA., Foi Strategic Group Ltd, MD Construction Inc., and others. Foi has pursued various degrees and two doctorates (including from the University of Oxford and Mei Ho Institute of Technology in Taiwan). He is also the president of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in Mozambique.

In what ways is El Patron disrupting the Maputo nightlife scene?
When I decided to venture into the restaurant business, my team and I looked into different trendy locations, from Dubai to Cape Town. We came across a setting in Dubai that we thought we could replicate in Mozambique. In 2015, we came up with the idea of Maputo Sky Lounge, a sky-bar on top of Rani Towers with a 360-degree view of the city and ocean. Due to the currency devaluation at that time, we were not able to bring this project to life but we still have a plan in the pipeline. In the meantime, we opened another location in the heart of Maputo, on Avenida Julius Nyerere. After obtaining financing and 18 months of refurbishment, we opened to the public in November 2019. El Patron offers seating capacity for 186 people with five different environments. We have the first cloud bar as well as the first bottoms-up beer system in Mozambique, with in-house production of beer. The offer is groundbreaking in Mozambique, though what ultimately matters to us is selling experiences. The restaurant is upmarket, but not necessarily unaffordable. We intend to cater to families up until 9pm, and later on—as the lights are dimmed and the music gets louder—to businesspeople and young people looking for a spot to enjoy the nightlife. We also offer a fully private floor for corporate events or private gatherings. Overall, we hope to replicate this success in other Mozambican cities as well as in Angola or Portugal and become a proper franchise.

What have been the effects of COVID-19?
As soon as news about the pandemic came out, we decided to close doors, much earlier than the state of emergency was proclaimed. We were not even in the first six months of operations, though we did not want to be the first incubator of the pandemic on Mozambican soil. Three months into the lockdown, things look different. As Maputo was fortunate to register a low number of cases, it has become evident that life needs to pick up again, if we want to avoid a deterioration of the economy. We decided to reopen our doors at the beginning of June, abiding by all the necessary measures for restaurants. Of the 83 workers we employ, we were forced to have half at home, although no one has been made redundant, as I believe in the importance of social responsibility. Now, we need to get the word out. We do have a fixed clientele, but many expats have left. We look forward to economic recovery.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, what should be the involvement of the private sector in assisting the country during a moment of crisis?
All companies should play a role and provide assistance where they can. In the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, I coordinated efforts to provide relief to families who lost everything. We even raised financing from international institutions to build 3,000 houses. In the wake of COVID-19, we have invested our efforts on two fronts. We firstly assured our employees they would not lose their jobs. In coordination with CTA, we also organized the distribution of over 20,000 kits of food and basic items to people in need. As the president of the Tzu Chi Foundation in Mozambique, I have coordinated efforts to assist the country. We are currently distributing 300,000 masks and PPE, such as gloves and alcohol gel. We recently received 35,000 COVID-19 test kits as well as eight much-needed ventilators, which we are delivering to hospitals and clinics.

What is your advice to upcoming Mozambican entrepreneurs?
My message to any upcoming entrepreneur is to never stop learning. Even now, sitting on the board of seven companies, if I was to enter a new company, I would never enter as CEO. You need to start from the bottom, learn, absorb as much as you can, and work your way up.