Nolu’s: Californian & Afghani Comfort Food With A Healthy Twist
Whether crunchy, super fresh salads and healthy bowls or traditional kababs and a heartwarming dish that feels like it’s homecooked, the dishes are seriously delicious.
Taking the best of Californian and Afghani fare is an unusual concept, but with over 10 restaurants around Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the pipeline, it’s something Marjon Andesha, Executive Chef and Founder of Nolu’s, has obviously mastered. An Afghani raised in the States, Andesha’s mixed upbringing and having restaurateur genes gave her the edge to launch her unique and wild passion project several years after relocating to Abu Dhabi. And while crafting a menu that incorporates a dash of the casual Californian farm to table flair with time-honoured, smoky Afghani dishes that ooze warmth, her focus has always been on clean eating. American and Afghani chefs in the various kitchens and the relaxed and welcoming ambience ensure authenticity too, making guests come back time and again.
We talk to Andesha about the challenges she faced starting the chain named after her two children, the must-try signature dishes, her cooking philosophy and more.
Which challenges did you face while turning your entrepreneurial dream into a reality?
As I began my journey in the restaurant industry nearly 11 years ago and coming from California, learning the processes necessary to run an operate in the UAE was not an easy one. We are not only running and operating a business, but there is this massive back end you don’t take in consideration. Hiring your staff and handling everything in between. One doesn’t understand how difficult it is to bring staff from abroad and then make sure they have comfortable living standards and then top that with handling their visas and learning all the labour laws. Everyday was a new learning curve for me. It’s like you are running two businesses in one. One day I am a boss and another day a therapist. Unlike the west when you hire someone, none of these issues are dealt with in my industry.
How has your diverse upbringing helped you?
Being born in the US but raised by Afghani parents really gave me the edge that has helped me in my career. Many have a hard time understanding the cuisine of Nolu’s but that’s what makes it so unique. I’m an American with a soul of a Middle Eastern. Bringing these two things on a plate has been my greatest joy.
How do you describe your overall cooking philosophy?
Creating the most delicious meals with the best and freshest ingredients. Consistency is my utmost goal. As I am growing into over 10 locations getting this solid is not as easy process. My top chefs have been with me for over 10 years and this says a lot.
Tell us about some of your signature dishes.
Some of the must haves at Nolu’s would most probably be our Mantoo Dumplings, Qabili Pallow, and my utmost favourite when I am in the mood of being healthy is a Superfood Bowl. And I never skip out on my Kale Caesar.
Which tips would you give to aspiring restaurant owners?
My biggest feedback would be that just because you are a great cook doesn’t make you a successful business owner. Understand everything behind the scenes. Get to know every single element of your business from the employee to the guest who walks in your door. There are also a lot of sharks in the industry that will take advantage if they smell your innocence. Don’t be afraid to question and ask.
Which female chefs do you admire? Why?
Growing up my favourite chef was Ina Garten on the Food Network. She made homemade food, but with so much love and passion. She is what I aspired to be. Creating simple dishes you would have at home but in a restaurant setting.
How do you ensure that your dishes stay up to date and reflect the desires and wishes of customers?
I am very involved in every step of the menu, from creating the menus, approving the suppliers and always tasting our dishes. I am not the easiest person to satisfy, so I feel this keeps my team on their toes. We stay in contact via social media and you can always catch me in one of my restaurants speaking with the teams. I also conduct a lot of meetings to hear what my managers have to say to me.
What’s next in your expansion plans after opening the eatery in Dubai South?
I have three more openings in the works. Two more locations for Fit n Glam, Dubai Hills Mall and Reem Mall Abu Dhabi, and then my second Nolu’s branch in Al Quoz for Dubai.