Photo: loop_oh, Flickr
If Dubai's indoor ski slopes, man-made islands, and luxe hotels weren't enough of a draw, Magnolia Bakery's coveted buttercream-frosted cupcakes are now on the city's list of attractions. The New York's famed West Village bakery is opening up its fourth location -- and first overseas -- in the United Arab Emirates city, and it's just the first of a wave of iconic Manhattan favorites headed to the Middle East. Tasti D-Lite, the go-to indulgence for calorie-counting ice cream lovers, has plans to open a Dubai location in 2010, and Danny Meyer's Shake Shack, famous for its lightly charred burgers and endless lines, is headed to Kuwait City, Kuwait, later this year.
It's easy to understand why the Middle East -- and Dubai in particular -- makes sense. Until recently, the region was booming, and locals and tourists alike have been opening their wallets for American theme restaurants like Planet Hollywood and Johnny Rockets in Dubai for years. But why now, when the crumbling economy has made a significant dent in the city's dizzying expansion?
Kurt Ullman, Tasti D-Lite's Director of International Development, isn't fazed by the soft economy. "Maybe I'd be deeply concerned if I was in the construction products business," he told Slashfood, "but the property bubble and some of the challenges on the commercial real estate side have, in fact, created more opportunity for us." He points out that the prices have come down considerably from last year, which gives them an advantage when negotiating location availability and price.
And let's be honest: A splurge on a Shake Shack burger or Magnolia cupcake isn't exactly going to drive anyone to the poorhouse. "There's been a lot of talk about small indulgences growing in popularity," says Bill Zinke, Tasti D-Lite's Chief Marketing Officer. "I think in places like Dubai and New York the dynamics are similar -- people are drawing away from the big purchases, but it's easy to rationalize a treat."