Food and beverages is one of the hardest industries to get into in Bahrain. 'Making it' all about excellence and precision. It also requires immense amounts of dedication and above all passion. This is exactly why Mi Barrio stands out. Founded by a team of young Bahrainis, Mi Barrio is an authentic Mexican taqueria in Bahrain and it all began with Abdulla Almuqahwi’s experience in Mexico. Smitten by the Mexican culture and food, Abdulla wanted to share his Mexican experience with Bahrain.
Here’s a what Abdulla has to say about his experience of starting up a restaurant in Bahrain and the inspiration behind it.
Bringing Mexico to Bahrain
It all started while I was participating in a program called Ship for World Youth (SWY) program in Japan, during which I made a lot of international friends and got really close to the Mexicans in the program. 6 months after the end of the program, I visited Mexico for a month.
There I got to learn more about their culture, from the locals’ perspective and I would visit the street markets and try the street food. That’s when I realized that the ‘real’ Mexican food is very different from the Mexican food we are used to here in Bahrain.
While having a conversation with a Mexican friend over there, who incidentally was thinking of starting a Middle Eastern restaurant, I thought that people in Bahrain needed to learn about Mexico and enjoy the true Mexican experience. That was when the idea of creating Mi Barrio came to me. I asked my friend if she’d want to come to Bahrain and learn about the culture and the food and at the same time share their culture and food with us.
Once I got back, I spoke to 3 of my co-delegates from the SWY program about the idea and they were completely on board. This was last December, and it took us a little less than a year to get the restaurant up and running.
Getting into the food business
I was never very much into food nor considered myself a ‘foodie’ but I do love tacos and love the cultural and social aspect of the business. Even though I didn’t have any background in the food and beverage industry or running a restaurant, I do believe in hard work. You can accomplish anything, granted that you have the right mindset and are willing to put in the effort. It’s been a learning curve; we learn new things as we go every day.
In the past few years, I tried to get as much experience as possible. My background in international logistics, volunteering work and traveling abroad also gave me a good amount of experiences that helped me take this step. Especially my volunteering experiences, which taught me a lot about working with different customers and providing the best customer experiences, as our work is very customer oriented. I also believe that it’s a trial and error process. Mistakes are not something to be ashamed of or hide, but rather to learn and improve from.
More than just a restaurant
‘Mi Barrio’ means my neighborhood in Spanish, and we hope to create that sort of a cozy and welcoming feel in the restaurant. Both Latins and Arabs have this thing where food is central to everything. All gatherings and conversations are set around food, so our aim to create more of a social and cultural space that is built around food, specifically tacos.
If you see the other Mexican places in Bahrain, the food is mainly Tex-Mex, rather than authentic Mexican food. Our competitive advantage is the authenticity of the food. Everything that is being used is all made from scratch and made in-house by our Mexican chefs. This does take a lot of effort and costs, but we still try to keep our prices affordable to make Mi Barrio accessible to everyone.
At Mi Barrio, we also love promoting our local Bahraini talent and to provide young talented Bahrainis the opportunity to showcase their work. Everything here is made by a young Bahraini whether it is the art, the menu, design work, furniture (which is all made from recycled materials).
We also want to be an all-inclusive space and have decided to provide the platform for work opportunities for people with special needs, especially down syndrome. We are currently working with several NGOs in this regard. We have also opened the platform for anyone who’d like to volunteer at Mi Barrio. Whether someone wants to try being a waiter, a barista or a cashier for a day, they can join us and volunteer, learn and socialize.
One of the objectives of Mi Barrio is to break the stereotypes. When people are here they can experience the beauty of Mexico through the food and the people and learn more about Mexico. It's also all about creating the right kind of experience, which is a combination of factors like food, space, and the prices, creating memorable experiences that make customers want to come again and again. The legacy we want to leave is not that it’s just a restaurant but a whole experience. To me personally, Mi Barrio gives me the platform to make people happy every day through the experiences we provide.