Interview

City Insider: Antonio Gonzalez, CEO of Sunset Hospitality Group

Sunset Hospitality Group continues its ambitious expansion plans with the recent openings of AURA Skypool & Lounge, DREAM and SUSHISAMBA Dubai. FACT catches up with the CEO to discuss all things hospitality.

Could you please tell us about Sunset Hospitality Group and why it’s seen as one of the regions leading restaurant and beach club operators?

Sunset Hospitality Group is a hospitality company established in 2011 with a vision to create unique experiences worldwide. We have developed and pioneered concepts and have partnered with reputable multinational companies to develop and operate a diverse mix of hospitality experiences.

The last ten years saw the Group grow at an exponential rate. Currently, we are present in more than 40 locations in 10 countries across 26 lifestyle and hospitality brands. We have been fortunate to operate very popular outlets that have been popular with residents and visitors from here and abroad. In fact, most of our brands received local, regional, and international recognitions.

We run our business to bring people together to celebrate life, so our approach and strategy are focused on concepts that cater to the evolving demands of our guests, whether in a beach club, resort, night venue, restaurant, or hotel.

We love what we do, and most importantly, we enjoy curating these concepts and are blessed to have an amazing team who works very hard every day to make everything happen.


How did you start your career, and what is it about the hospitality industry that inspires you?

I started working in advertising and then transitioned to a large healthcare multinational, where I spent eight years. I learned a lot during that time and somehow have carried some of the management styles from then till today.

In 2009 I decided to change industries and focused on hospitality, partnering with a boutique hotel company, and then in 2011, we launched the first few outlets of what today is Sunset. 

I love this industry’s ability to create environments for experiences that provide joy to our guests. From a holiday in one of our resorts to a candlelight dinner or a family celebration, being able to host those moments mean a lot to our teams and myself.


As CEO of Sunset Hospitality Group, could you tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?

Every day is different at Sunset. But, that is part of the beauty of this job… never a boring day! I try to balance my time between corporate work, operations, and business development. There is always something going on in these three areas, especially as we are growing exponentially. We constantly have to deal with the challenges ahead of us. Most importantly, I am fortunate to be surrounded by great professionals who work very hard and are fully committed to our plans. 

Sunset Hospitality Group
Antonio Gonzalez

We know you’re currently working on several new openings. What should we be excited about in the coming months?

The Group will be extremely busy for the next two years. We plan to increase our portfolio to over 50 operating venues and extend our footprint to 14 countries by year-end.

For the first quarter, we will open L’Amo Bistro del Mare, an upscale Italian seafood restaurant located in the Dubai Harbour, the largest marina in the region. This brand was created in partnership with Mine and Yours Group.

We are also bringing the award-winning brand Mott 32 to Dubai, one of the leading Chinese restaurants in the world, scheduled to open in the first half of the year at Address Beach Resort, JBR.

METT Hotels & Resorts will be expanding on the sun-drenched shores of the Costa Del Sol in Spain with a Summer 2022 opening. METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella – Estepona will house 253 guest rooms, multiple dining experiences, a bespoke swimming pool, expansive beach, and a state-of-the-art gym along with a modern spa. 

We have also signed a joint venture with Dex Squared Hospitality, a hospitality management company. The partnership will bring our hospitality and lifestyle concepts to Egypt like Azure Beach, Ammos, Black Tap, and Isola Ristorante Italiano, to name a few.

Sunset Hospitality Group
L’Amo Bistro del Mare

DREAM and Garden of Dreams recently opened at Address Beach Resort JBR. What can you tell us about the venues, and how does DREAM differ from other ‘dinner and a show’ concepts in Dubai?

DREAM is a destination where decadent dining and awe-inspiring performances mix. The spectacular ‘dinner and a show’ concept combines the very best of Mediterranean culinary art with an eclectic mix of avant-garde theatrical and artistic performances, including dancers, singers, acrobats, aerialists, and international guest performances. 

From eccentric design to spectacular live shows using advanced 3D mapping and showcasing acts from all over the world, guests are transported to another dimension with DREAM. Guests will be taken on a journey from the streets of Paris to experiencing an extravagant Broadway special in New York to the Far East, exploring iconic China whilst stopping over in India, immersing the crowd in the colours and poetry that Bollywood has to offer. 

With entertainment inspired by the varying stages of dreams and furnishings designed by the ethereal dream world, the venue promises to leave guests filled with wonder and awe – fully immersed with the experience.

Meanwhile, GARDEN OF DREAMS is adjacently located on the expansive terrace of DREAM. It is an elegant yet playful and modern hangout perfect for sundowners, bites, and hookah with live music. 

The GARDEN of DREAMS is hidden away within a blur of lush greenery on the waterfront, overlooking Bluewater Island and the Ain Dubai. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Dubai and watch the city turns from day into the night whilst enjoying perfectly crafted cocktails or an early dinner. 

DREAM
DREAM

We’ve also heard that a Chinese concept Mott 32, will also be taking up residence inside Address Beach Resort. What can you share with us about this exciting new concept?

Mott 32 is an award-winning concept that presents authentic Chinese cuisine. Created in Hong Kong, “Mott 32” pays homage to 32 Mott Street in New York, where the city’s first Chinese convenience store opened in 1891. The store served as the nucleus for what is now a vibrant Chinatown in one of the most dynamic cities.

The menu features time-honoured recipes passed down from generation to generation, which are principally Cantonese with some Beijing and Szechuan influences.

This amazing restaurant will sit on the 73rd floor of Address Beach Resort and offer incredible views and an open terrace to the coastline of Dubai.


METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella is set to open in June 2022. What can guests expect from the new beachfront venue, and why did you pick Marbella as the next location for the METT Lifestyle brand?

After the successful opening of METT Hotel & Beach Resort Bodrum, which received outstanding recognitions, including TIME’s The World’s 100 Great Places and the annual Condé Nast Traveller Middle East Readers’ Choice Award, we are bringing METT Hotels & Resorts to Marbella – Estepona, Spain.

The new METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella – Estepona sits on the Costa del Sol pristine shoreline and features 253-keys. The 5-star lifestyle property will focus on dining, entertainment, and experiences to bring people together to celebrate life.

The beachfront property provides uninterrupted sea views and is surrounded by a lush Andalusian landscape resembling a “chic contemporary cortijo.” With the art of dining and entertainment at its heart, the resort will feature several international lifestyle brands, providing a unique dining offering that will position this property as a socializing hub. 

Why Marbella? Marbella is a beautiful destination in the south of Spain that attracts a great mix of clientele. It benefits from a 6-month season and is a favourite for the Spanish market and international travellers. After Bodrum, it was a natural development choice and is in line with our pipeline to open lifestyle resorts around the Mediterranean.

The hotel sits directly on a pristine beach stretch, complemented by a bespoke swimming pool and a few private pools and cabanas. A perfect destination for fitness and wellness enthusiasts, the resort also provides a state-of-the-art gym and studio for group classes under our brand RAISE Fitness & Wellness, along with a modern spa designed to soothe, pamper, and de-stress guests from our portfolio of brands – Moi Spa.

METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella
METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella

From Black Tap and Joe’s Backyard to recent openings like SUSHISAMBA Dubai and AURA SKYPOOL, how has Sunset Hospitality Group changed over the years, and how have you adapted to changes in the marketplace?

We keep track of the latest trends on food and beverage, customer requirements, eating and travelling habits, and even interior designs. We have integrated these into our concepts, such as AURA Skypool & Lounge. Described as an “oasis in the sky,” AURA brings island life to new heights in Dubai. AURA is the world’s first and highest 360-degree infinity pool, offering a duo of experiences: a chic pool deck where guests can dip between plush loungers and the calm waters of the swimming pool that snakes around the venue, and a luxe, laid-back lounge bar. AURA’s opening received local and international recognition from the press, such as the UK’s Daily Mail, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveller, and many more.

We also often see a natural evolution of our businesses and seize the opportunities. For example, from managing some of Dubai’s most popular beach clubs for over four years, namely DRIFT Beach Club and Azure Beach Dubai, we moved into the Resort space as adding an overnight stay component to the whole experience made it better for guests. From there was born our Living Division with the introduction of the award-winning METT Hotel & Beach Resort Bodrum.

AURA Sky Pool
AURA Skypool & Lounge

With a waitlist for reservations, what do you think it is about SUSHISAMBA Dubai that has resonated with diners in Dubai?

SUSHISAMBA is the first Middle East location for the internationally acclaimed brand. Located on the 51st floor of The Palm Tower, it offers a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian culture and cuisine.  

The combination of design, location, view, entertainment, food, and service makes Sushisamba a unique offering for the region and the wider world. 

SUSHISAMBA Dubai Review
SUSHISAMBA Dubai

What is the process behind selecting the locations for the Sunset Hospitality Group concepts? AURA SKYPOOL, for example, is a bit of a show stopper.

Like in every business, the locations must be attractive to the public we aim to serve, whether for residents or tourists. We, in addition, look at the overall experience we can offer and create a destination within the location. Lastly, beyond the location, we take into consideration:

Sustainability – We consider finishes and materials with the lowest environmental impact

Functionality – The goal of our designs is to make them durable and timeless. We combine high-quality material with refined details and consider simplicity and functionality over embellishments.

Music and Lighting – The harmony created in our venues makes all objects breathe as one soul.

Furniture – We have a modern design approach, and we encourage the idea of minimalism and that less is more. 

Materials – we mix various materials, keeping the right balance to achieve a unique look.


What do you believe restaurants and nightlife venues have to do to stay relevant and ensure success during these unprecedented times for the industry?

When we move into a new space, there are always new challenges, even if it’s a natural evolution of the business. However, we overcome it by surrounding ourselves with experienced teams with the same desire and patterns to succeed.

If your fundamentals are solid, if you have the right team, the right approach to business, and the right financial resources, there are good opportunities to capitalize when markets are uncertain. The secret is not to make any hasty decision but to look at long-term planning, adjust your cost structure, and be as variable as possible so that you can fluctuate as the market changes.

You must keep your pulse on-trend but stay true to your vision and values. We bring people together to celebrate life, and all our concepts have this at the heart of the experience.

Sunset Hospitality Group
Black Tap

What would you say sets Sunset Hospitality Group apart from your competitors in the marketplace?

Our business revolves around the concept of bringing people together to celebrate life. Giving guests a diverse mix of dining concepts that will add value to their experience is something that we always keep in mind.

The key to our success and the foundation of our business is our people. They are the ones who bring the customers’ experience to life. So, we focus on having a workplace where our team takes pride in their job, and they can grow their careers.

Our team commitment and focus on quality are essential to drive that success. Of course, every brand delivers different experiences, each concept is unique, but consistency in quality is key to our success.


Finally, please could you talk us through the expansion plans for Sunset Hospitality Group in the next five years.

We will keep growing locally, as we see big potential in the Middle East and internationally with extra focus on Europe, the US, and Asia, curating new experiences around the world and spreading our presence globally. 

We have exciting plans all around Europe. We have built a team in Europe to grow our living division, particularly our hotel brands, and recently signed a resort in Marbella – Estepona. We have a few more locations on the pipeline, which we will announce soon. 

METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella
METT Hotel & Beach Resort Marbella

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David Tapley - Editor-in-Chief
Dubai-based Editor-in-Chief for one of the region’s most fiercely local lifestyle publications. Lover of all things, food, travel, street art and hip-hop.

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