Abu Dhabi: Inside a cafe with owls
Mohamed Mahfoodh Al Shehhi and Abdulla Al Hammadi’s Owl Cafe in Abu Dhabi’s Al Seef Village offers pet lovers a different perspective on these nocturnal birds.
Pet-themed cafés are an uncommon sight in the UAE. But there are signs of this concept gaining currency now following the popularity of an owl café. Yes, you heard it right, Abu Dhabi has got its own owl café, a first in the country and the region too.
Nestled in Abu Dhabi’s Al Seef Village is Boomah the Owl Café, which features different species of the bird in a cozy environment.
You can get close and personal with owls, hold, feel and snuggle them. And if you are game for it, engage in a ‘who will blink first’ game! Also, you get to learn a lot about this nocturnal bird. Did you know an owl can rotate its neck 270 degrees and have ageless ears? Trained staff at the café will give a guided tour and reveal more facts about the 10 different species of owls kept there.
The café is run by two Emirati partners Mohamed Mahfoodh Al Shehhi and Abdulla Al Hammadi – both engineers by profession.
From Japan with love
Love for owls started as a hobby for Al Shehhi. Recollecting his experience, the 30-year-old said: “It started as a hobby some seven years back and grew in me with time. It was strange for many people in my society to see that I have a hobby of raising owls as pets. But I find that owls are very close to humans. They like to get attention, love and care and are very social.”
It was during their visits to Japan, where owl cafes are a rage, that Al Shehhi and Al Hammadi hit upon the idea of bringing such a concept to the UAE shores.
“We found this concept of owl café there. We thought that we could bring it to Abu Dhabi as an evolved concept of what we have seen in Japan. Currently this is the first of its kind in the Middle East,” said Al Shehhi, who works in the oil industry.
However, opening their own owl café wasn’t an easy journey for the partners. As 27-year-old Al Hammadi noted: “It was a new idea. There was always a risk. Initially when we thought about the idea, we were reluctant. It was not easy in the beginning. We were faced with many questions from people. There is this superstitious idea that owls are a bad omen, and people and society would not accept it. But, luckily, we pushed forward and achieved it.”
Since, owls have a highly developed and incredible hearing ability, selecting a quiet yet vibrant location was a key challenge for the partners.
“We wanted to have some privacy but at the same time be in a popular site. So, picking a location was a challenge. We didn’t want something to be open on a road where you can hear the traffic or the cars that might upset the owls. So, Al Seef Village provided both elements. We got our privacy, whereas we are in high-demand and among the popular spots in Abu Dhabi. I think we are lucky to have picked Al Seef Village to open the café,” said Al Hammadi, who works in the nuclear energy sector.
The café was opened last year and includes species in different colour, sizes and distinct features like the Pharaoh eagle owl adapted to a hot environment to a snowy owl, the breed seen in the Harry Potter movies. They got starry names like Saif, Sheikha, Saturn, Neptune and Mars, and some have even got more than one name. They are trained and placed in a separate temperature-controlled room suitable for all species. There are dedicated trainers, who accompany the customers, briefing them about the specialty and features of the birds and narrating interesting facts. Al Hammadi noted that getting the right staff for the job and giving them training was also a challenging act.
“Since this is a new concept in the region. It was not just difficult to open the place and get people’s attention, it was difficult to also hire people. Many of the staff we have hired have seen an owl for the first time here at the café. We spent many hours training them and getting them friendly and accustomed with the owl. Taking care of a bird in a new environment might be stressful and challenging but with collective effort from the management and our staff, we have managed it. The success of where we are now could not have been possible without the team we have.”
And the unique concept has been lapped up by the community with fan following for particular owls.
“Customers are guided by our trainers. They are briefed about the likes, dislikes, features, details and stories about the reason behind the certain names each owl has. At the end of the tour, the customers can get to carry the owls on their hand or shoulder or even head. So, customers get a close, intimate experience with the owl. They kind of form a special bond with a particular owl. So, we can see many customers return to see the owls. Some have their favourite owl. So, we have many regular customers now. Initially many would say it’s a one-time experience but once they leave, many customers say they miss these owls. Some of the parents tell us, the kids could not stop talking about the owls, and they had to return here,” said Al Hammadi.
The café is open only for eight hours from 2pm to 10pm taking into consideration the well-being and privacy of the owls.
“As we know owls are nocturnal. So, they are mostly active during night and sleepy and relaxed during day. So, we don’t open in the morning but only by afternoon,” Al Shehhi said.
At the café, there is an entry fee to enter the room where owls are kept. It’s Dh70 per adult, Dh50 for kids, a bunch of 1 adult and 3 kids will come at Dh170, and it is free of cost for people of determination.