Dounia Benelkadi, 28, manager of Little Venice Cake Company in Dubai
By visiting the new Atlantis The Royal Hotel which sits on the tip of the artificial palm, we met Dounia Benelkadi. At 28, she is the manager of Little Venice Cake Company, a very upscale British pastry shop, installed in the XXL galleries of this hotel inaugurated at the beginning of the year by Beyoncé. In a living room with so British pastel shades, she told us about her career and her “Dubai way of life”.
Atlantis The Royal Hotel, Dubai
His current job in Dubai
The one we came looking for to take the management of the Little Venice Cake Company shop nestled in the luxury hotel Atlantis The Royal, does not have a minute to herself. But always keeps smiling and overflowing with energy. After having had to manage the entire launch of the concept (decor, suppliers, recruitment, etc.), Dounia Benalkadi is now responsible for the daily management of a team of 7 people of 6 different nationalities.
Some examples of pastries created by Little Venice Cake Company
At the rate of 48 hours of work per week, she shines in the shop. She must know how to adapt to a very very demanding clientele, ready to pay huge sums to obtain a unique and extravagant cake. She connects conversations in French, Arabic, English… with the same ease.
“Managing a multicultural team is a real challenge. With a collaborator from Kazakhstan, I have to be very specific in my requests and insist on things. With a young Moroccan employee, we understand each other quickly. To a Mexican, for example, I had to explain several times the capital importance of placing the plates an inch from the edge of the table and not at random”, she illustrates.
As for her position as a women’s manager in a reputedly very macho state, she agrees that, for example, she “must show more grip and character than a man, sometimes giving more figures to argue. But in the end, it may be easier here for a female manager than in France. I used to say, “I’m a princess, I can also be the king”.
Here, when you achieve something, the recognition is immediate. In France, you can work hard 13 hours a day, move mountains and nothing happens.
His adaptation to Dubai
“During my first experience here, I made the mistake of just working. I had lost 8 kg, I was withdrawn into myself”, she remembers.
For her second life here, the young woman approached the situation differently by building a network with the French community present in Dubai. In addition to exchanges on WhatsApp groups, they meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in trendy bars and restaurants in the city. “We are all far from our families and friends, with few landmarks, so a little vulnerable. We listen to each other and help each other. Be careful, landing in Dubai means starting from scratch. It’s not for everyone. Success can be there, but you have to give the best of yourself. Here, we are very exposed to wealth but that does not make us rich people. You have to take the best of Dubai, without disguising yourself and remaining humble”she warns hyper lucid.
On the salary side, Dounia agrees to let go that she “make a good living” but that here, even if there is neither tax nor tax, life is expensive. Especially rents. When negotiating her pay, she landed a hefty bonus for her rent. But not all expatriates have this opportunity.
What she misses the most in Dubai
His family of course. But also nature, or more exactly the trees, the forests. In short, freshness! From May to the end of August, the perceived temperature can exceed 50° C outdoors. Dounia Benelkadi also dreams regularly with a good cheese platter. From her travels in France, she likes to bring back some Brie, some Saint-Paulin, some Saint Nectaire… so much so that she was once stopped at customs who suspected her of smuggling cheese.
The Palm Jumeira island in Dubai at the tip of which was built the hotel in which the boutique run by Dounia is located
What she appreciates in Dubai
“Security that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Here, you can leave your laptop on a table, you won’t risk seeing it disappear », she says. While recognizing that this security still has a cost. “If you cross outside the pedestrian crossings, you risk a huge fine. In the event of a car accident, even if you are not responsible, ditto”she adds, again very lucid.
Some figures on the French in Dubai
Officially, the consular registers of the United Arab Emirates list 28,000 French people in 2022 for 3.5 million inhabitants. Either the second largest Western community after the British. A figure which has almost doubled in 10 years and which does not take into account French nationals who do not declare their presence.
For Dubai, no more precise figures but you just have to hang out in the hotels and 3500 restaurants of the emirate to hear a lot of French spoken. And we are not referring here to influencers and other reality TV starlets or to top athletes, who came for different reasons to settle in this little corner of the desert in the infernal heat in the middle of summer. We are talking about executives but also about freelancers arriving to make a fortune, to launch their business or to make a subsidiary of a French group prosper. Obviously, depending on their profile, their ability to (sur)live in this emirate varies. Money is law, rents are expensive (they increased by 22% in 2022, according to the latest figures from the Dubai Land Department) but taxes and other taxes are non-existent.