Watch: 55 years ago, this Dubai trader used to sell foodstuff to royals

From the age of 13 years, Mohammed Hassan Ali Akbaryan has been witnessing the growth story of Dubai


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Mohammed Hassan Ali Akbaryan at his shop. (Photos/Video: Neeraj/KT)
Mohammed Hassan Ali Akbaryan at his shop. (Photos/Video: Neeraj/KT)

Published: Sat 28 Jan 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 28 Jan 2023, 8:06 PM

When Mohammed Hassan Ali Akbaryan arrived in Dubai just three years before the union, the city was just a small town with a tiny market with only a few shops in Deira. And surprisingly, he says, there was no visa to enter the country.

“I was just 13 years old and that was the first time I was on a plane, it was Iran Airlines and the ticket fare was about Dh70. When I landed, the passport was stamped, however, there was no visa,” said Ali.

As Ali made his way from the airport to his uncle’s residence in Deira, he said it took him nearly 45 minutes “as the roads were very narrow back then”.

“The airport back then was very small and had only a few rooms and the passengers directly exited on the road,” added Ali.

Royal clientele

The 13-year-old Ali then started working at his uncle’s shop located in the present Gold Souk and sold foodstuffs and household items. He was given the tasks of delivering the products to residents’ homes and Ali had Royal clients.

Listen to Ali himself, where he delivered the items.

It took nearly 45 minutes of travel to reach the palace at Zabeel. Not only Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, but Ali had the privilege to serve many royals in different emirates.

Ali reminisces about the time when the Deira Souk had only a few shops. “The souk here had only a few shops and the most famous was my uncle’s shop and everybody in Dubai knew us.”

Ali’s shop had clients from all over the emirates, and his job was delivering the goods. “Taking up delivery of goods back then, was a bit hectic as it consumed nearly a whole day to deliver and return from Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi,” said Ali.

While Ali strolls in the evenings at the Gold Souk, he returns in time. “The Gold Souk had just 6-8 shops and stocked only just half a kilogram of ornaments. I always remember the time I spent with my colleagues and friends in the evenings,” recollects Ali.

Ali remembers that the region experienced rainfall every year, and “whenever it rained, the water in the creek overflowed, flowing in our shops,” said Ali.

One of the first trade licences after the union

When the Trucial States joined hands forming the United Arab Emirates, Ali, along with his uncle, had been to Dubai Municipality to renew their trade licence. “We had to renew our trade licence and without delaying further, we applied for renewal just the next day of formation of the Union,” said Ali.

“The government work back then was also very quick and we got our approval the same day,” added Ali.

Ali’s uncle started his business 72 years ago and now he is in Iran. Now Ali owns this establishment which he took over from his uncle.

Witnessing the Dubai and UAE grow

“When the union was formed, we could feel that the country is on a positive trajectory in growth. Whenever I had been to the royal palaces, all they spoke was development. Sheikh Rashid was always among people asking and addressing the problems,” said Ali.

However, after the construction of the port, things became a lot easier for the traders. “We ordered many items from India, Europe, Iran, and Africa, and we received them after 45 days or two months. But when the operations began at Port Rashid, the goods reached in just 25 days.”

Ali said that the founding fathers had sacrificed a lot to build and develop the nation and the seeds of development were planted by them and their sons carried forward the legacy. “Building the nation was the founding fathers’ passion. All they were concerned about uplifting and making the residents’ lives easy. There was no looking back when their sons undertook the responsibility which made the country the best place to live in,”

Building his business

As the shipping duration was reduced, Ali started concentrating on expanding into various other products. “At present, we have over a thousand varieties of products in our establishment, Yathrib Dry Fruits and Nuts. But prior to the 2000’s we had lesser than one-tenth of what we have today,” said Ali.

Ali coming out of his shop in Deira.
Ali coming out of his shop in Deira.

He firmly made up his mind to take charge and diversify the business in the early 80s. Presently he sells a variety of hundreds of dry fruits and nuts, chocolates, drinks, saffron, and much more. “I get the best quality products from different parts of the world. I have had the same clients for decades now. The surprise is that I have made my product reach the corners of the world because of the tourist influx,” said Ali.

“And they love the chocolates prepared by me,” he added.

Carrying forward the legacy

Ali has two sons and two daughters who live in Iran. “My family was in Dubai earlier. After my wife’s demise, I am living with my son Hadi.”

Ali wants his son to carry forward his legacy and diversify this business. “He has improved the business to a vast extent by staying in line with the current marketing and sales trend.”

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