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When asked to share her most memorable highlight of 2022, it’s quite unsurprising that Lynn Lin responded by pointing toward the launch of Electric Pawn Shop, the Asian Mediterranean bar restaurant that she opened with co-owner Lobito Brigante in Dubai in May. Electric Pawn Shop has since gone on to become a darling of the masses, as well as the recipient of several accolades from the industry at large, which includes a place on this year’s 50 Best Discovery list that is made by the same experts who create the rankings of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and The World’s 50 Best Bars. Now, at this point, some of you may be tempted to write off Lin’s Electric Pawn Shop journey as one of those entrepreneurial fairy tales you often hear about, but the Chinese entrepreneur -“a nomadic spirit” that has lived in cities like Beijing, London, New York, Beirut, and now Dubai- makes it clear that she has certainly not had it easy to get to where she is today.
Lin started off her entrepreneurial innings in Beijing, where, after years of trying to live a desktop-bound existence, she gave up on that career trajectory, and then took a leap of faith and launched her first bar, Press Release, in the city. “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.” Lin started off her entrepreneurial innings in Beijing, where, after years of trying to live a desktop-bound existence, she gave up on that career trajectory, and then took a leap of faith and launched her first bar, Press Release, in the city. The bar opened to rave reviews and was an instant success, but Lin then decided on leave Press Release on that high note, traveled around the world, and ultimately found herself in the Middle East- which is where she launched her second bar, Electric Bing Sutt, in 2018, in Lebanon.
Source: Electric Pawn Shop
This Beirut-based concept outperformed her last venture, with it becoming a raging hit and becoming the first bar in the Middle East to be recognized by The World’s 50 Bars, among several other awards and accolades. But then, an unexpected event destroyed the venture- Electric Bing Sutt was one of the casualties of the Beirut port blast that happened on August 4, 2020, a devastating explosion that has since been reported to have caused at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, as well as leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
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“After the Beirut explosion in 2020, my business was destroyed in its entirety,” Lin says. “I was also inside the bar when it happened, and I had parts of the balcony land on my chest.” To say it was a traumatic experience for Lin seems like an understatement- and one can only imagine how difficult it was for her to move on from everything she had built and worked on in Beirut. “It literally took me blood and tears to say goodbye to my past, and to move forward to the next chapter of my life,” Lin reveals. “I met my new business partner, Lobito, one of the most respected musicians and entrepreneurs in the circuit, at the exact same phase when he was planning to open his own bar. And after this, Electric Pawn Shop was born. As my dreams were being rebuilt, it is a blessing that I met some of the greatest people along the way, and as a team, we overcame a tremendous amount of challenges before finally opening the doors of Electric Pawn Shop.”
Lynn Lin and and Lobito Brigante, co-founders of Electric Pawn Shop. Source: Electric Pawn Shop
Today, given the manner in which Electric Pawn Shop has succeeded and set itself apart in Dubai’s F&B scene, Lin says that she hopes to launch more such one-of-a-kind ventures in this landscape. “I’ve 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,” Lin says. “There is a huge amount of potential in the fine casual dining sector for smaller venues with intimate experiences. I also think the existing cuisines in Dubai can be explored further.” This, by the way, ties into the long-term goals she and Brigante have earmarked for themselves. “Lobito and I have always aimed to serve unique and culturally-fueled nightlife offerings, and I think we’re well on track, but we’re still very hungry to do more,” Lin says. “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.” And in case anyone doubts Lin’s resolve as she pursues these goals, well, let’s not forget everything that she has got past to reach her current standing. “New bar, new country, new life,” Lin points out. “I know that there is a fighter inside of me, and I would never be a quitter, even if my business got bombed. I believe that if I made it from zero once, I can definitely do it again.”
Reflections 2022: Lynn Lin, Co-Owner, Electric Pawn Shop
Make a solid plan- and stick to it
“At the beginning of the journey, we analyzed the market, and found a particular segment where we can bring in our expertise, and create new experiences for the Dubai crowd. We made a solid business plan considering all the situations and circumstances that could happen. We understood all the calculated risks, and agreed on a systematic way to tackle all upcoming challenges. Then, we stuck to the plan. Rain or shine, we executed that same plan step-by-step, and we never doubted our judgment. Along the way, we also set up a few key points to reevaluate our overall plan, such as, is the venue capacity still profitable? Is our average check reasonable? Do we still decide to open only in the evening?
Given all four pillars of the business (food, drink, music and experience), did we push to our 100% for each aspect? Can our cash flow cover the unexpected delay in construction, if any? How long can we hold on to? We dealt with all the roadblocks, including people that doubted us. Some naysayers even remarked that because we had zero F&B experience in the Dubai market, our judgment is biased. Some said that the Asian-inspired restaurant bar segment is overcrowded, and that we stand no chance. Other people suggested that we need to reduce our targeted check average, and focus on hops instead of craft cocktails if we want to survive. Well, we did not believe any of that, and we remained loyal to our plan. I think that was one of the best decisions we made.”
Adapt and change quickly
“After we opened, we received a few comments regarding our food. We quickly sat down with our chef, and discussed the general direction of our menu, and what we can change or improve. Within three weeks, we introduced a few dishes that addressed previous concerns, and catered to our customer’s needs, which received waves of positive feedback. Three months later, we launched a new menu with 40% new items, and more vegetarian and seafood options. Right now, all the dishes on our menu are flying, and we boosted our food sales by more than 30% in general. We also kicked off our happy hour program soon after we launched to appeal to the massive amount of professionals in our area. After a few new venues opened in the Trade Center area, the competition became fiercer, so we expanded the happy hour menu, and also extended the offer from 6pm till 8pm to 6pm till 9pm. After these strategic adjustments, we saw remarkable footfall during the early operating hours, and most of the guests stayed much longer than before, because of the quality of the offer. As a result, we saw dramatically improved topline growth. Overall, it is important to be prepared for feedback and changes in the environment, and to stay agile to make sure you are consistently meeting the demand of your target audiences.”
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