An interview with Creneau International, on their brand, how they experienced lockdown during a global pandemic and what they have in store for the future.
During Expo 2020, Creneau International will operate all catering outlets in the Belgian Pavilion
Creneau International's thirty-year experience in hospitality design and catering operations is the perfect foundation for a successful cooperation with Belexpo. The renowned Belgian design agency has won the tender for the creation and design of the F&B outlets and will further operate all catering establishments in the pavilion itself.
Postponed for a year due to COVID-19 regulations, expectations are high for this 35th world exhibition. From October 1st, 2021 to March 31st, 2022, Dubai will be the stage for 190 countries.
Connecting Minds, Creating the Future is the overarching theme of this expo, and with Creneau’s innovative design-history as well as their international catering experience and overwhelming hospitality, they most certainly fit the description.
Creneau became known worldwide as a designer of shops, hotels, and restaurants. They have opened about 90 Belgian Beer Cafés on all continents in collaboration with ABInbev. International clappers such as ING, Ahold Delhaize, Radisson Hotel Group, Accor, HMShost, and all major Belgian project developers have now found their way to Creneau.
"80% of our projects are hospitality projects," General Manager Bart Canini remarks. “Catering operation has become an important sideline. In addition to branding, design, and construction of interiors, we now also operate and franchise, which creates a lot of synergies."
He continues, “We are also increasingly asked to come up with innovative office concepts. Nowadays, a hospitable atmosphere and design is also a must for one’s workplace. For example, last year we set up all ING offices in the Netherlands as well as the offices for Ahold IT in Zaandam, White Light in Genk, and the offices for Vaimo and Easi on the C-mine site. Project developers are looking for a successful interpretation of their projects and are increasingly asking us to lend a hand. We assist them with the master planning to ensure that the realized projects meet the ever-changing needs of catering operators and retailers." In Belgium, Creneau has worked in recent years on projects such as Quartier Bleu, Corda Campus, Thor Central, Shopping Gent Zuid, Manhattan in Brussels, and the new casino of Knokke.
“We are very active in the Middle East as a catering business operator since 2008. Think of Belgian Beer Café, Maison Mathis, Le Petit Belge, and Cargo”, says owner Werner Vanherle. “During the financial crisis of 2008, you saw little or no investment in catering-projects, which is why we have developed and invested in new brands ourselves in the Middle East. Due to its success, we came in contact with entrepreneurs who wanted to franchise our brands. In addition to being the operator, we also became a franchisor. In the meantime, we already have eight catering concepts in-house and another seven in franchises. Good for the employment of about 400 people. ”
"The future is sustainable", says Serge Haelterman, art director. Creneau International not only tries to make the world more beautiful with their designs, but they also try to make the world a little better. "We are aware that nothing is 100% sustainable," says Haelterman. “In the past, sustainability was not a hot topic, and we only looked at the aesthetic value of materials and products. Now we look at the ethical value and try to apply it as aesthetically as possible in a project. A good example of this is the offices we designed for Ahold's IT department. Here we looked at the materials we could re-use. And when we bought something new, we always looked at the origin of the material. A matter that we are currently studying very deeply because not everything that carries an ecolabel is ecological. Instead of always worrying about how we can get even more original, we are now more concerned with how we can make the world a better place. This is also our philosophy in the Middle East ”
On June 10th, Creneau opened the Maison Mathis and Trentanove restaurants, two new hotspots in Belgium (Hasselt, Quartier Blue). Both are operated together with partner C-Group.
“It was an instant hit. We are grateful that we can fill our restaurants every night to the maximum allowed capacity. The catering industry is reviving” says Werner Van Herle.
In the meantime, Creneau International is continuing to work on several beautiful projects, such as Stiemerheide, Air Flats (Residence in by Marriott), Moxy (Marriott), Manhattan (Icon Real Estate Group and Victory Advisors), ING offices, Wauwhaus (Cores development) and others.
The postponement of Expo 2020 Dubai, living through quarantine and Hospitality in the UAE.
Some thoughts by Dirk van de Haar (Director Creneau Middle East) and Chef Bart Thoelen, who has been a chef for many years for the restaurants developed and operated by Creneau International in the Middle East. He currently works as a chef at the Belgian Beer Café in the Souk Madinat in Dubai.
Both have a long history of living and working in Dubai. Both have been working alongside BelExpo during the past challenging months. As the hospitality sector was hurt the most during the quarantine, we checked on how they lived through the spring of 2020 and how they experience the re-opening in Dubai.
Bart Thoelen: "Normally I would travel to Belgium for the start-up of Maison Mathis Hasselt, but Covid-19 decided differently. The UAE went into full lockdown. Of course, this was terrible for all of us, making a living in the hospitality sector. But at the same time, it was a perfect opportunity to take time for a lot of extra training. Every day I attended a Zoom meeting for a management training, global meeting about the catering industry, HACCP training, training offered by suppliers, etc. I learned a lot, mostly how much I love my job and how I missed our clients!”
Dirk van de Haar: "We are very lucky that our Dubai-business already had a lot of regular customers. As a result, we can say that the outlets we have re-opened do well again. The minimum distance must still be respected, because of this we are still at a lesser capacity which does result in a reduction in turnover.
We are very aware of how important our loyal guests are, and want to thank them for coming back to us! In the future, we will focus even more on retention. The key here is, of course, quality/price, high service standards, and tangible branding. We want Dubai to know who we are and what we offer and continue to build lasting relationships with local suppliers, staff, and of course clients."
Bart Thoelen: “The catering industry in Dubai was allowed to re-open from May 26, we opened on June 1. First with a maximum occupancy of 30%, but by now we have evolved to the distance rule of 2 meters. We experience the reopening positively. Guests are cooperative and relaxed. Contactless working has given us another great advantage: digital menus. This allows us to adjust the menu faster and thus respond to guest requests.”
Dirk van de Haar: "Our feeling is that the postponement of Expo 2020 is the correct decision. It will be awhile before people feel safe to travel again, and companies have recovered from this crisis. If it had continued in 2020 it certainly would not have had the number of expected visitors due to marketing budgets that have disappeared from SMEs and even large companies. Maybe even more important than the actual visitor numbers is the general experience. Expo 2020 Dubai, the first in the Arab world has to be a memorable festive event. With the threat of COVID-19 lingering above us, that would not be possible. Therefore, postponement is the way to go. Dubai will certainly do everything to make it a success in 2021, and we are very much looking to be a part of this. Our plans have not changed, we will put Belgium’s culinary wealth on the map in the most beautiful way."
Bart Thoelen: "The expo-prepping is temporarily on hold, but behind the scenes, all plans are ready.
Think pure Belgian cuisine! Classic dishes to connect our visitors with our culture and traditions and give them a new future in the Arab world. During the lockdown, there was ample time to create new dishes and train for the big event! We are ready!"