Off hours: Dubai restaurateur's hunger to succeed pays off

Alexandra Vovchenko is the chief executive of Vesna, a Slavic-themed lounge and restaurant in Conrad Hotel in Downtown Dubai, which opened in November. The Ukrainian moved to the UAE more than two years ago after visiting annually to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant featuring her native cuisine. Ms Vovchenko, 27, holds two master’s in international business and luxury management.

How do you spend your weekend?

Being in the hospitality business, you don’t really have weekends like everyone else, no matter which position you occupy. However, whenever I have free time I prefer to spend it benefiting myself – such as going to the spa, having a massage, heading to a beauty salon or even the beach. I’m not really a party person, so I prefer to meet my friends over a delicious meal and hearty chat or to go to the movies.

How did you become a chief executive?

Well, this is my first experience of undertaking such a big project. After I received my first master’s in international business at the Institute Paul Boc­use in Lyon, France, I discovered my passion for hospitality and began my second master’s in hospitality at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland. Afterwards I had internships in the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai and with the Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in London. During my training I knew I wanted my own restaurant, however, the concept was still growing in my mind. Having lived in six countries and travelled to many more, I’ve studied the restaurant market of each city I’ve lived in, ticking them off in my notebook. After I came back to Dubai, I had formed a concept in my mind and step by step, I started building my future team.

What is your go-to gadget?

I’m very dependent on my iPhone. I literally spend the whole day with it in my hands. everything I do is through my phone – writing emails, checking necessary information, online shopping, food delivery, listening to music, chatting to my friends etc.

What was the lowest point of your career?

The very beginning was the most difficult period for me. When I came to Dubai, I didn’t have a name or the reputation I had in my country. Of course, being quite young, didn’t help in my attempt to prove that I am a capable and trustworthy entrepreneur. Being away from my family and their support proved to be another big obstacle for me. For example, I spent one year searching for the location for my restaurant and at one point was really discouraged to keep fighting for my dream after spending so much time and effort and encountering obstacle after obstacle. People I consulted told us it was impossible to find the place for my concept. But I never gave up.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

First of all, fully understand that the restaurant industry is one of the most difficult businesses and be ready to accept challenge after challenge.

What is your most indulgent habit?

Green tea. I am really addicted to it – I drink it in the morning, afternoon and evening.

What can’t you live without?

Smiles. Life is way too complicated and if you don’t have a positive mindset, you won’t be able to enjoy it.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

I still haven’t learnt how to. When I get involved in something, I can forget about everything. However, the best way for me to boost my energy levels is to travel – even for couple of days. Travelling makes me feel happy and alive.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

I wanted to sing, so I started my own music project back in Ukraine. I love travel and tourism and opened a luxury travel concierge in Ukraine with my partners. I’m passionate about hospitality and food and now I’m operating a restaurant in Dubai. And one more interest is to have my own fashion line. I hope to fulfil that in future.​

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