Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
Located within Sharjah’s bustling culinary district of Muwailih Commercial, Paper Fig is a sweet retreat serving breakfast, lunch and dinner alongside speciality coffee, afternoon tea and lovingly crafted artisanal desserts. Founded by Emirati wife-husband duo Nawal Alnuaimi and Ahmed Almazrouei, the restaurant first opened its doors in January 2015 following a grant from the Khalifa Fund, starting life on a smaller scale able to seat just 30 dessert lovers at a time. Since then, Paper Fig has blossomed into one of the Emirate’s ultimate foodie destinations, growing from 7 to 70 staff and almost tripling in size with an additional catering offering and series of regular events. The homegrown restaurant can also be credited for starting Sharjah’s growing culinary scene, with more than 20 food concepts joining Muwailih Commercial’s neighbourhood dining line-up since Paper Fig’s opening. With a focus on beautifully plated dishes, friendly service and a welcoming atmosphere, Paper Fig is a true representation of Nawal and Ahmed’s entrepreneurial vision and passion for providing a delicious community dining haven. Paper Fig’s roots are tied to Mini Treats, a small home catering business started by Nawal in 2010. Driven by her love of baking and cooking for her loved ones, Nawal began catering weddings and delivering her creations all across the country, eventually making more than 800 pieces per day. Today, Nawal and Ahmed’s ethos of sharing delicious food at Paper Fig remains, with seasonal menus as well as favourites continued from Nawal’s humble beginnings with Mini Treats. Inspired by Nawal’s culinary heroes including Pierre Herme, Christophe Michalak, Guillaume Mabilleau and Bill Granger, Paper Fig’s vibrant and varied main menu features more than 40 dishes, all made using the freshest ingredients and served with smile. As an Emirati-run business, Paper Fig also strives to support local farmers and use local produce where possible.
Five years before Paper Fig first opened its doors, its co-founder, Ajman-born and Sharjah-based – Nawal Alnuaimi – was running a modest but popular home catering business called Mini Treats. Mini Treats began organically, when a love of baking and cooking saw Nawal being asked by many friends and family to make her delicious dishes for them.She catered weddings, delivering her sweet treats all over the emirates and has participated in Sharjah and Dubai Bridal exhibitions and before she knew it, Nawal was making over 800 pieces a day. The most popular dessert at Mini Treats was Nawal’s mini cheesecakes, which she created in a plethora of different flavours and to this day, Paper Fig’s kitchen uses the same recipe and it remains the best-selling dessert. Nawal’s husband, Sharjah-born Ahmed Almazrouei, was impressed by his wife’s success and encouraged her to apply for the Khalifa Fund to expand her foodie empire. In 2013 the Khalifa Fund awarded the two Emirati entrepreneurs, and soon the husband and wife duo were planning their dream restaurant. The idea was to create a space that would serve as a sweet retreat for the community, and – at first – the plan was to continue to focus on desserts and provide light snacks. The name ‘Paper Fig’ was inspired by a pretty little discovery the young couple made whilst vacationing during the summer of 2013. Nawal and Ahmed stumbled across a paper fig shell on a beach walk and fell in love with its beauty and mystery. The ‘ficus ficus’ or the paper fig shell is a species of sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Ficidae – found in the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific. The budding entrepreneurs brought the shell back to their hometown in Sharjah and decided it was the perfect name to use for their sweet retreat. Paper Fig opened its doors for the first time on Muwailih Commercial – e mere 5 minutes drive from University City Sharjah on the 26th of January, 2015. It was a Monday, and the concept started life as a dessert shop serving light snacks (outsourced sandwiches) with an opening time of 4-10pm which was later extended following its overwhelming popularity in less than 3 weeks of operation. After one month of operation, Paper Fig started serving breakfast from 9am, introducing its popular and signature French toast – which remains as one of the most popular on Paper Fig’s menu up to date. The kitchen also stopped outsourcing its sandwiches and started making them in-house. In November 2015, Ahmed and Nawal bought the shop next door and started work on an expansion due to the growing menu and hungry visitors – the expansion later opened in May 2016 and saw the restaurant almost triple in size.
In the three years since Paper Fig first opened, the Emirati-owned business has grown from just 7 staff, to over 70. What could once only seat 30 diners, can now accommodate over 95 hungry foodies at any one time. Paper Fig also has an impressive dedicated parking lot, which can house 30 vehicles. The seasonal menus now feature breakfast, lunch, dinner, and speciality coffees, teas, plus artisanal desserts. There are over 40 dishes to choose from the main menu alone and the restaurant is open from 8am on a daily basis, closing at 11pm Saturday-Wednesday and midnight on Thursdays and Fridays. Thanks to a lack of any other gourmet, foodie concepts in the emirate at the time of opening, and the novel, handcrafted approach Nawal and her kitchen take to each and every dish, Paper Fig became a shining foodie gem in Sharjah. It is known and loved by all. In fact, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah is a big supporter of Paper Fig, and a constant source of inspiration for Nawal. Her Highness has also honored Paper Fig in her presence to launch its very first Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative – The Big Heart Éclair. It is a fundraising campaign wherein Paper Fig sells a Big Heart Éclair for 30 AED per piece or on a higher value should the buyer decides to pay more and all proceeds will go directly to the institution. The creation of The Big Heart Éclair is a symbol of gratitude and commemoration of Paper Fig when Her Highness made a surprise visit to Paper Fig in May 2015 and gave a feedback to Paper Fig’s Founder Nawal Alnuaimi on improving her éclair to which the founder gladly heeded the advice. Paper Fig’s growing popularity arguably ignited the emergence of a “foodie scene” in Sharjah and since Nawal and Ahmed paved the way, more than 20 food concepts have popped up around the now bustling restaurant filled area. Paper Fig’s highlights and favourite achievements to date include a visit from Her Excellency Barbara A. Leaf, U.S. Ambassador to the UAE visiting the shop on October 18, 2016. Climbing to over 57,000 (and counting) followers on Instagram. The Chamber of Commerce selecting Paper Fig as a feature of its prestigious Visit Sharjah Tour (which led to a feature in the UK’s coveted Monocle magazine). Welcoming Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi as guest of honour to ‘Brunch with Nawal’ in May 2016. Plus Nawal giving a talk at the TEDxYouth AlQarayen conference. Nawal was also invited to share her experience in food and business at the 2017 Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. Nawal and Ahmed have big plans for the future and are working on a series of exciting new projects and expansion plans.