It goes without saying that a creative vision and strategy effectively set in motion fosters collaboration, innovation and true change. If you find yourself in the heart of Kuwait City, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to Almakan. You’ll easily be drawn toward Almakan’s location due to its proximity to the country’s most known cultural and commercial hubs. A short stroll away from Souq Al-Mubarakiya, Kuwait’s banking complex, the Kuwait Stock Exchange and the Safat market, this space’s location is alive with its neighbors as well as its creative tenants. You won’t be able to walk by without catching a whiff of the intoxicating coffee served at the café, and you’ll find yourself immediately immersed in a space where art, food, creativity and innovation effortlessly collide.
When we first heard about Almakan, we envisioned a creative space that would skyrocket in popularity then eventually reach a plateau, tapering off as just another ‘new concept’ in town. However, what we’ve seen from its four Managing Partners so far is an extremely well thought out strategy that reflects a deep passion toward shaping and bettering the future of the country’s creative community. With the talents of Aysha Al Nafisi, brother and sister duo Bader Alhasan and Dalal Alhasan, along with culinary guru Faisal Al Nashmi, a visit to Almakan will leave you feeling inspired, creatively satiated and challenged to try something different.
The idea behind this space is rather simple. Almakan is essentially a physical hub that welcomes all lovers of the arts. Whether you see yourself as a culinary aficionado, in the habit of learning a new skill every now and then, or you have a deep appreciation towards emerging artists, Almakan allows you to experience something different as the space comes alive with its many activities and different workshops. Almakan’s design does not fall under a certain theme and it cannot be labeled as either modern or artsy. Upon arrival, you will be instantly taken with the youthful vibe of the space. Almakan aesthetic echoes with possibility, growth and creation. Whether you’re at the studio, its restaurant ‘Street’, the café, or the gallery.
Le Cordon Bleu graduate Faisal and Architecture-loving Bader both attended the University of Miami together. Faisal said, “I clearly remember the first time I met Bader, I was so relieved that he wanted to explore everything that Miami had to offer, unlike many people from our part of the world who also happened to study abroad.” They jointly discovered and instantly fell in love with the lively arts and culture hub that is the Wynwood Art district. They found themselves lured by the creative vibes of this once ignored neighborhood, now an inspiring district that is abundant with art galleries, graffiti enveloped surfaces and incredible emerging food concepts. Bader added, “I always knew that I wanted to do something that celebrated the spirit of Wynwood, right here in Kuwait.” Faisal especially appreciated the organic growth of this area, “Wynwood grew with its people. It changed my entire understanding of food.” Prior to Faisal’s eventual return to Kuwait, Bader had mentally prepared him about the journey that lay ahead. Bader also sought out the help of his sister Dalal, who, along with Aysha, would complete the dream team behind Almakan.
As for Dalal and Aysha, the pair quickly became close friends over their shared passion for the art world in 2011. First meeting through mutual friends, they previously worked together on an art project for the United Nations Development Program. Aysha said, “At the time, I was looking for volunteer work to do over the summer. That’s where it all started. The project was experience, and I especially loved that we worked on a project that empowered the youth, and that is when Dalal and I realized that we needed to do something to keep this momentum going in Kuwait.” They met up in London again later that year, and Aysha found a friend in Dalal who shared her passion for visiting art galleries. Dalal added that after many museum-hopping sessions later, they met up again in Dubai. Dalal clearly remembers dreaming up the idea of Almakan with Aysha, they even wrote the name down on a piece of paper and tucked it away for safekeeping, long before Bader and Faisal approached them with the idea.
Once the wheels were set in motion, the rest as they say, is history.
When it came to finalizing the layout and design of Almakan, Bader utilized his architectural background and focused on the structure and the design elements along with Aysha who also offered her expertise, given her experience in interior design. Faisal plunged right into developing a carefully crafted menu that ensured that the dining at Almakan reflected the attitude and the culture of the space. Now recognized as ‘Street’ at Almakan, the dining experience is unforgettable, and truly inimitable. Along with Dalal’s managerial expertise, they decided that they weren’t in it to simply open up a space that allowed creatives to convene, they collectively decided on a long-term strategy that would leave a lasting impression with Almakan’s visitors.
Faisal, along with the partners at Almakan, wanted to make sure that people were involved in the story of the development of the food. Utilizing his architectural background, Bader happily glances around at the open dining space, highlighted by an extended dining table that communally seats many people, and told bazaar that people are finally beginning to understand and respect the way that food is prepared.
Faisal explained that his vision for ‘Street’ involved breaking down the boundaries of what is considered as normal. “We want to do everything in house, and we decided to take on a different approach that reflects the collaborative nature of Almakan.” ‘Street’ is currently open for dinner and also serves up a mouth-watering brunch menu on Saturdays. While many people are rallying for a lunch and even a breakfast menu at ‘Street,’ Faisal is in no rush and said, “While we are all trained to acknowledge that the customer is always right, sometimes we have to take a step back and look at the feasibility of each and every request. I can’t pressure a team to perform if this will compromise the end result, so instead we are taking our time. We see our success in how we grow as a team, and not by how many tables are cleared in one day.”
He added, “As we set to work on Almakan, we first acknowledged that we are four people working on the same project, so we have to respect each others’ views. Even when we don’t necessarily agree on something.” If it weren’t for these differing views, the end result wouldn’t have turned out the way it is now. The design of the space, the theme and the originality of the food at ‘Street’ speak miles of this ‘end result’. Everyone’s personality shines through Almakan’s multifaceted elements.
Faisal recalls the droll experience of finalizing the design of the dining space, with the shining example of an illustrious blue marble counter, a design element Faisal initially deplored, that is now a stunning focal point at the restaurant. Nonetheless, Faisal utilizes every part of the kitchen, and believes that it is important for people to see what goes into the preparation of the dishes. You’ll see the culinary team preparing those deviously addictive ‘Street’ cookies on that marble counter, or you might catch Faisal working on a new creation right in front of his guests. Regardless, everything happens right in front of you at Almakan. If you arrive to dine at 5 p.m., let your eyes wander toward the art gallery where you will find the works of local and regional artists on display. You might also be a little taken with the constant hustle and bustle that comes out of the studio, where workshops are organized and given to willing participants looking to learn something new. If you arrive at Almakan before dinnertime, then stop by the café for a coffee, and check out the surrounding concepts that are popping up in the same area.
While every partner at Almakan is avidly spreading awareness about their concept space through cultivating strong relationships with the local community, Aysha explains that their roles are collaborative in nature. “We tackle our roles and responsibilities by collectively working on one project at a time.” While every team member has his or her own vision for Almakan, they share the collective goal of supporting local creativity and helping this local community grow by giving them the space to display and showcase what they have to offer.
Dalal’s dream for Almakan is overflowing with art. She said, “I see us hosting more pop-up exhibitions in and around our space, collaborating with others to create art installations, gallery showings and hosting quality events that could be showcased on a national scale. I wish that we could continue our efforts here to arrive at a point where we can present something from the Kuwaiti youth to the international arena.” Bader believes that Almakan represents the start of a true artistic district in Kuwait, “Art is always a reflection of a nation’s success, culture, growth and development. Where there is art, there is culture and civilization. Not many people are involved with the art community here, and despite high literacy rates, an appreciation for the arts is not prevalent. If people visited Almakan for the food, they will inevitable encounter art. While this might seem like a small change, it is still an impression on the visitor nonetheless.” Perhaps this is where Faisal’s role takes the lead, as he intends to educate visitors about the bigger picture with the attitude of dining at ‘Street’ or visiting the downstairs café for a coffee. He said, “We blended four concepts under one space. When you tell anyone who hasn’t been here, they question our choice. When people do arrive here, they finally understand the beauty of a space that flawlessly blends the worlds of dining, with art. This is what we aspired to do, having these four incredible concepts work. From here, we know that the sky is the limit because every concept at Almakan could potentially expand and branch out to carry out more activities. ‘Street’ perfectly embodies this idea. Who knows, we can even execute a pop up show one day at Dirwazat Abdulrazzag. Our flexibility is the key to our future.”
Aysha further remarked that with Almakan, the pressure to create is even greater. “We see prevalent opportunities for artists in other GCC countries, governments have paid attention to this idea. Whereas in Kuwait, artists feel pressured to create because of the fact that the opportunities are not present. We’d like to give them this opportunity now.” Aysha also told us about one of their fantastic initiatives, in which Almakan adopts a policy of displaying the words of 12-15 different artists throughout the year, free of charge. They started collecting creatives’ information through a previous installation of empty acrylic contact cards displayed at the recent Nuqat Creative Conference, which successfully led to a great database. She added, “Not everyone is able to come out with their art, some people need a push, and we would like to provide that for them. This is one of our initial projects; to promote and showcase the talents of locally based artists. We also want to limit the outsourcing of creative talent, because this country is abundant with it!” From art showings to workshops at the studio, Almakan will always be buzzing with activities.
The rest of the year is already looking pretty busy for the team, as they are also planning on working on public projects, CSR efforts and much more. March also marks the arrival of Almakan’s official opening to the public, so a visit to the space is a must. They’ve transformed the gallery into a thought-provoking installation that tells the story of Almakan. As soon as you walk in to a gallery, you will leave with an experience. ‘Street’ will also be representing Kuwait and the GCC in the field of French cuisine on the 18th and 19th of the month with the support of the French Embassy in Kuwait. Furthermore, a humanitarian lecture by Humanity 1 is set to take place every Saturday throughout March and well into early April.
Expect more activities, art showings, and lectures from Almakan, with a side of Green Curry Glazed Ribs on Mash from ‘Street’.