There’s a playful glint in Flavio Briatore’s eye – behind the signature sunglasses – as the former Italian Formula One boss-turned-hospitality mogul sits down in Billionaire Dubai, madness ensuing around him as the team prepares for the evening ahead. He seems excited, as tonight, the iconic dinner and a show concept is launching its limited-edition Billionaire Card to the city’s well-heeled social set, set to bring in even more high net-worth clientele. Briatore’s name often proceeds him – in the limelight since the 1980s when he managed Benetton’s Formula One (and then Renault F1’s) racing team and dated the world’s most beautiful supermodels. But since then, the Piedmont native has been carving a name for himself in the restaurant and nightlight industry, creating some now playful concepts (including Crazy Pizza) and the famous ‘Billionaire’.
Founded in the glamorous Costa Smeralda yachting town of Porto Cervo, Sardinia, in the summer of 1998, Billionaire – formerly Billionaire Society – has become one of the world’s most iconic entertainment brands, now operating in Dubai, Doha, Riyadh and Monte Carlo, along with the original Porto Cervo venue. At the helm is Briatore, whose passion for his brands is imbued across their hedonistic venues that truly embrace joie de vivre. We sat down with the businessman to chat about all things Billionaire, what he loves about the Middle East and his surprising second home destination.
Tell us how Billionaire’s journey started.
The first Billionaire was born in Porto Cervo. At the time, I was very busy with Formula One. Sardinia was a super place, but there was no entertainment at all, so I decided to open the first Billionaire. Porto Cervo’s Billionaire was only a disco – and we partnered with Cipriano for the food. But then we wanted to do it by ourselves. The second was Billionaire Dubai, but we decided not to do a disco, but a dinner and a show instead. At ours, you can connect with people while you’re eating. The music is only loud when the show is on, so you have time to talk. This first experiment was in Dubai, and we’ve been here for seven years.
Now we have Dubai, Doha, Sardinia, Monte Carlo and Saudi Arabia (Riyadh) all in the same format – the dinner show – and it’s doing very well. How do I know that? Because we see a lot of people copying us. But Billionaire is the best. We’ve been here from the beginning: the team is strong, the food is good, and the show is technical. It takes a lot of time to put together a team like this.
Did you bring any experience to the opening from your Formula One days?
Managing people – it’s the same if you’re managing a Formula One team or a restaurant team. You need to make sure people understand your idea; every business if the same at the end of the day. We take the efficiency of Formula One, too – this is part of our business.
Tell us about the Billionaire acts – what makes them so different?
The show has been a difficult part over the years – we have artists from all the world, and we have management all over the world to find the best acts. What also makes us special is our staff connection – the waiter is connected with the DJ, is connected with the dinner show – everybody knows what’s going on. Sometimes, you have the waiter going in one direction and the show in another, but at Billionaire, everyone knows what’s going on. We have a high-profile clientele, and what is important in the show is that we don’t have too much repetition – we need to have a different energy and atmosphere each time. The show changes regularly, so you can come back over and over again and always see something new. We change the costume, we change the ballet, we change the singer, the song – we want guests not to see repetition. Every 10 days to two weeks, we change the act of the artists. The show is always fresh, and all our regulars always have a surprise.
We have the absolute best – the best choreographer and director; it’s like a small movie we’re doing every night; it’s all very complex. For me, I love it when the customer says ‘wow’. It’s the best.
Why do you love Dubai?
Dubai as a city is growing every month. It’s very financially productive and different to other Middle East towns. In Dubai, everything is done for tourists; we have the support of the government and the law – to invest in Dubai is safe. It’s easy to work in Dubai; the rule is black and white. It was a safe place to start out concept in Dubai and launch Billionaire Dubai; it’s our flagship. Sardinia, we’re just open for 40 days, Monte Carlo, 40-50 days, but Billionaire Dubai is all year round.
Tell us about Billionaire Riyadh and Saudi.
Saudi Arabia is big on investment from the government, and we want to be part of this growth. We opened not only Billionaire but Crazy Pizza, too; we have Crazy Pizza in Doha, Bahrain and Kuwait – we have our whole brand there. We believe that Saudi Arabia is in the process of developing incredible tools for tourism. I think these openings, the fun, familiar brands, will make people more confident to visit these places, like Saudi Arabia, and see its changing landscape. These cities, its islands – like the Red Sea – it’s very big.
If we could open a Billionaire anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Where’s your road most travelled?
Kenya, where we have the Billionaire Resort. It’s my second home – it’s a restaurant, it’s a hotel, it’s a resort, it’s a spa, it’s everything. The model of the Billionaire Resort has been great, but I don’t want to have too many places – I want to manage each place very well with consistency. We need a bulletproof place where the music and food are consistent. We are a small organisation, and to make sure the energy and experience are good, you need a restricted number of brands.
What’s your favourite part about the Middle East?
I love Dubai – Dubai is a big real estate and commercial place; you feel it, you feel that the government is looking after tourists and making investments. They ensure people are happy and looked after, and they are always investing money – this is the place to be for people who understand tourism and our industry. You have everyone and everything from around the world. Whatever food you want in Europe, in Italy, in Monte Carlo, you can have in Dubai. Operating a restaurant and a dinner show in Dubai with this government is very easy.