Lynn Lin, co-founder of the Electric Pawn Shop in Dubai, discusses how her entrepreneurial skills aided her success in the F&B industry, as well as her goals and expectations for 2023.
How have your entrepreneurial skills aided your success in the F&B industry?
I personally went to business school in the UK and then got a master’s degree in the US. I have both Management Consulting and Public Relations background from China and the US. Similarly, my business partner Lobito Brigante has extensive experience in the government sector as well as the entertainment business and he champions project management.
We believe that the entrepreneurial spirit is definitely a pivotal prerequisite for a successful business. Every challenge can be solved, sooner or later – as long as you don’t give up. There are times things are not happening as planned. Don’t panic – focus on what you can do now. Focus on what can be solved today and keep moving forward. Surround yourself with the right people, from the accountant, lawyer, design agency to the architect… you name it. Build a solid relationship with them over the years because they are your closest allies.
You’ve worked all over the world and are now based in Dubai. What is your experience, and how does cultural change affect the decor and tastes of clients?
I spent nearly three years in Beirut working in my previous bar. Coming to Dubai definitely made me more culture conscious and I know we need to adjust accordingly. A lot of our guests are Lebanese for instance as they have followed us to our new venue. We know their taste preference for their drinks so we maintain this whilst striking a balance to ensure we continue to attract and cater to an international audience.
In addition, people are more health conscious these days, so less sugar and less calorie in drinks is always preferred. We have also encountered very early on regular requests for vegetarian dishes in our venue. We moved quickly and added a few delicious vegetarian options which received waves of positive comments.
What was your source of inspiration for the Electric Pawn Shop?
Electric Pawn Shop is the successor to Electric Bing Sutt, which I created in Lebanon and won Best Bar in Africa and the Middle East 2019 in The World’s 50 Best Bars. The bar saw an abrupt demise as the Beirut explosion in 2020 devastated the venue in its entirety. Using my and Lobito Brigante’s combined creativity, expertise in music and entrepreneurship, we teamed up to rise from the ashes of the fate of Electric Bing Sutt, and converged counter culture, underground music, contemporary design, innovative drinking and dining experiences into Electric Pawn Shop. Inspired by one of the oldest Far Eastern businesses brought into New York, Electric Pawn Shop is the certified broker of counter culture in Dubai, bringing a multilayered authentic experience and defying generic standard nightlife expectations.
What distinguishes Electric Pawn Shop from other contemporary restaurants?
I want to innovate and create the next generation of bars and restaurants that would showcase contemporary Asian counter culture, food, drink, design and lifestyle. I believe that other cultural cuisines have seen modern interpretations, and it is clear there is a huge scope in the Asian category to transcend. We’re challenging the status quo of bar lifestyles one shop at a time, starting with Electric Pawn Shop.
Is there a storytelling element to the design creation of this F&B venue?
Embodying its eccentric nature in its decor, the Electric Pawn Shop space features fragmented concrete island bars, a neon-lit stainless steel Asian pavilion hanging by a giant indoor construction crane, a massive collection of curated rare original vinyl records, a glass brick centre stage DJ booth, neon-lit water tank art piece, intimate red velvet couple seats, an indoor amphitheatre, sci-fi style cocktail laboratory and street photography showcasing iconic New York Chinatown scenes.
Food and drink are the main highlights of any restaurant. What are some unique items to try and not to miss when one visits this venue?
We really try to differentiate ourselves from other “Asian” venues that focus heavily on Japanese-influenced dishes and serve sushi and sashimi as a default. We try to shine some light on pan Asian cuisine where I traveled extensively. From Thai-inspired Sukhothai Seafood Ceviche with lemongrass and fish sauce to Sichuan Shrimp Chive dumplings with authentic spicy Chengdu chili oil, we challenge the status quo and introduce new flavours to our guests.
Cocktails-wise, the Electric Pawn Star Martini with passionfruit and a hint of anise definitely cannot be missed. And if you are a fan of sour gin cocktails, the Yacht Rocker Yangon will surprise you with Sichuan pepper and Thai basil notes.
How important is music to the success of any F&B venue?
Lynn Lin: Food, drink, music, service and vibe are core pillars of a great experience in the hospitality industry. Often people are too much product-focused (tasty cocktails, delicious food) and they overlook that without the right music, the whole experience can be misinterpreted. Music is also a medium to communicate the brand, as much as branding, and food and drink presentation. The music you play in a venue is not only a self-expression, it is also a statement of your concept. Discovery of a new genre of music, a new song, it’s all part of a great night to be remembered.
Eclectic underground music surrounds Electric Pawn Shop delivering funk-laced beats from different genres played through a top-of-the-line custom built sound system. Lobito, my business partner, who is also considered one of the music trailblazers in the region, has established a music program that will showcase both emerging and world renowned artists, producers and musicians to give the venue a fresh take for guests to enjoy every flavour of food, drink and taste in tunes.
Lobito Brigante (co-founder): Since I started creating concepts in the UAE, my goal has always been to bring an innovative, authentic and culturally disruptive experience to Dubai. The majority of places just offer more of the same generic formulas and for me personally, this is a huge step to create a counter-culture venue and, through our neon haze, match world-class music selection and skills to a global standard of bar culture.
Do you face any challenges in the region in the F&B segment? Are there any specific initiatives and actions do you think Dubai needs to up the level in F&B industry?
We found that while Dubai customers have strong spending power, we are all spoilt for choice in this city with so many concepts and venues. It is extremely important to be consistent in all aspects of your business: food, drink, music, service and vibe. You need to carve your own unique segment in this crowded market, stay true to yourselves and be authentic – we believe this is only way to make it. We also think exceptional program planning is crucial to success. Whether it is a happy hour program, food and package program or DJ/bartending event – people need excitement and new stimulus – really standout and worthy offerings to keep them focused on your venue.
How much do you depend on word of mouth and social media?
World of mouth is definitely important as we believe in Dubai consistency is key. In a way, it is also a small city and it’s true sometimes when people say everybody seems to know everyone. You need to deliver great experiences to your customer, without fail every single day for the sake of making their night memorable – and trust me word travels fast. Of course it is undeniable that social media is also key to business success in this market – but if you are not what you say you are, and if you are not delivering great experiences to your guests, pretty pictures and cool videos won’t help in the long run.
How do you see the F&B industry evolving?
Smaller-scale restaurants and bars will gain a stronger hold in the Dubai market. Welcome the golden days for 200-300 pax venues which specialise in a particular segment of cuisine and drinks. Fast growing market for Asian inspired venues that focus on lesser commercialised cuisine such as Thai, Indonesia, Korean etc. Natural wine will see a rise in popularity and demand across all type of fine casual establishments. RTD and tap cocktails will be prominent in high-volume cocktail bars. Fine casual restaurants and bars at affordable prices will see a great increase in popularity.
What are your targets and expectations for 2023?
We look forward to opening new ventures in Dubai. Both Lobito and I visited many F&B venues here and around the world and I believe we can still create new segments in the market that guests have never seen before. There is a huge amount of potential in the fine casual dining sector for smaller venues with intimate experiences. We also think the existing cuisines in Dubai can be explored further.
For our venue Electric Pawn Shop, we are excited to welcome more international DJs and bartenders to showcase excellent music and cocktails and make more epic memories. Take overs like these are usually very enriching because both our team and our guests learn a lot from each other with the goal of elevating experiences from the best of our industry’s practices.
My business partner, Lobito, and I have always aimed to serve unique and culturally-fuelled nightlife offerings and I think we’re well on track but we’re still very hungry to do more. In the long run, our goal is to establish the most creative Asian themed hospitality brand growing from the Middle East to the rest of the world that advocates a daring attitude, an independent style and a distinguished originality.