Smooth operator

Zooom Café & Juice Bar is taking healthy eating to the next level with its range of smoothies and local Arabic bakery products. Caterer caught up with founder, Timothy Etheridge, to find out more about what’s good for you

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By  Laura Barnes Published  March 1, 2006

Australian, Timothy Etheridge visited Dubai over a year ago and was surprised by the lack of healthy eating outlets and healthy eating menu options available in cafes. Soon after, and with the support of two local Emirati businessmen, Etheridge opened up Zooom Café & Juice Bar in Knowledge Village, offering a range of healthy options from smoothies and juices, to salads and pasta dishes.

Etheridge was eager to promote the smoothie drink in the region, and believes that with Dubai’s year-round sun and high disposable income, the frozen yoghurt and fruit-based juice is an ideal meal replacement and rehydrating drink for the market.

“In similar markets to Dubai, like Australia and the US, the smoothie is extremely popular. It is a low fat, low sugar drink and it’s ideal for people who are dieting or who are on the go and do not have time to eat a snack or meal,” says Etheridge, manager, Zooom Café & Juice Bar.

Zooom Café offers more than just smoothies, with salads and pastas also on the menu. Being located in Knowledge Village, Etheridge hopes to tap into the mindset of the next generation who are more adaptable to change.

“The obesity risk here is very high. People who are born here or who have moved here suffer from a lack of exercise; and with rich food options it makes it very easy for people to gain pounds but not to lose them. Because of this, people need to have the option to change, so we are aiming at people’s intelligence to be able to make that choice,” adds Etheridge.

As part of the café’s offering, it has moved its format from being a kiosk serving nutritional beverages, to now offering salads, baguettes and also Arabic bakery products. However, it does not add any sugar or salts to its food, unless requested to by the customer.

For example, its smoothies consist of only frozen yoghurts and fruits, whereas other companies — who may claim to make traditional smoothies — add syrups and sugars to add flavour and sweetness. In order to combat a good taste but not with a bad result, Zooom Café also creates drinks from ingredients that naturally contain enough sugar, like its mango-based smoothie and also its banana and date smoothie.

“Dates are very sweet, and dates from this region in particular are like nowhere else. So we thought, why shouldn’t we use them? Also, it helps to localise drinks, as they prove very popular with Emiratis,” comments Etheridge.

“We have localised other dishes as well as introducing traditional items from the region, because good food and good eating is something that traditional cultures from the Middle East understand very well. They are nutritious and the body loves them,” he adds.

However, despite trying to promote healthy foods, Zooom Café is still a retail company, and as such has to cater to customer demands, by providing chips. However, Etheridge says that although it offers chips, it uses a high grade German soya bean oil. Zooom Café also uses a first pressed extra virgin olive oil, rather than blended edible vegetable fat, which Etheridge claims makes a huge difference to not only the nutritional value of the food, but also to the flavour.

“We use the healthiest oils as fats and oils are very high risk in terms of the human diet and cancer forming compounds. Rancid and oxidised fats are the most active cancer forming substances that you would normally eat so we steer clear of these,” says Etheridge.

Zooom Café also heavily promotes its use of only filtered water, as its ice cubes, juice and coffee water is highly filtered, going through a five-stage reverse osmosis filter in order to get rid of excess materials and minerals. Although Dubai water is acceptable by health standards, Etheridge claims that regular consumption of local water can begin to affect the joints, and although it will not make the consumer seriously unhealthy, it is not ideal if you want to maintain a certain level of health.

Based in Knowledge Village, the outlet is mainly targeted at students and a high proportion of European expats. However, the café is also seeing an increased number of Emirati customers, who are trying to manage their sugar and fat intake.

Zooom Café is also looking to expand its reach, and although it offers a take out service and delivery service to local areas like the Greens, it has two other stores planned. While the exact locations have not been confirmed, they will be targeting European expat communities and are expected to be based in commercial precincts and recreational, residential areas.

However, as it establishes itself in the market it is aware of competition from other companies, with international US and Australian restaurant operators already looking at the Middle East as the next place to target. Although Etheridge says he looks forward to seeing more healthy eating cafes and smoothie bars in the region, he also warns there will also be a high percentage of imitation cafes claiming to offer healthy alternatives.

”The big challenge when bringing a new product into the market is getting the message out and making people aware of what you are offering. I look forward to high standard competition that can provide healthy food and drinks in the right way. What I don’t like to see is people doing cheap copycats and using low grade products and additives to produce their drinks, and then claiming it is healthy,” adds Etheridge.

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