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Meet the Irishman selling ice in the desert

On Dubai's hospitality bucket list: crystal clear ice with no taste impurities and a low melt rate
  • Mena ice maker market worth $142.55 million by 2029, says report

In the ever-competitive Dubai bar and restaurant market, a new supplier has launched this week, aiming to offer venues another unique selling point: high quality, hand-cut ice.

Since he officially launched on August 1, John Gillespie, founder of Artisan Ice Co., has been targeting the top 30 venues in the city and he said the response has been positive.

“The guys are frustrated. A bartender is like a chef. If they can’t source the right product, they go somewhere else,” he said.

Naim Maadad, chief executive and founder of Gates Hospitality and a board member of UAE Restaurant Group gave the concept his backing.

“I believe the demand will only grow as cocktails and mixology will be in vogue in the foreseeable future. Operators will have no option but to up their games,” he said.

Based in the Al Quoz Design District, the Artisan Ice Co. describes itself as Dubai’s first boutique hand-cut ice company. 

In development for three years, the startup claims its ice’s unique selling point is the fact it has no bad smells or taste impurities. 

It also has a lower melt rate, it is crystal clear, and it helps to amplify the overall flavour of a drink.

It’s the new ice age. There’s a gap in the market and Dubai is responsive

John Gillespie, founder of Artisan Ice Co.

“Ice is classified as food. However, at the moment no one thinks of ice as a product, they think of it as a by-product of something you just put in your drink,” Gillespie, who has worked in the Dubai hospitality industry for 15 years, told AGBI.

“All the [ice supplying] companies in Dubai are backstreet industrial companies and it’s been like that since Dubai’s inception. 

“The bars and restaurants have been buying ice from the other suppliers, but it’s not 100 percent pure,” he said, explaining why he saw a gap in the market.”

Gillespie uses the example of tonic water as an analogy to explain why he thinks there is market demand for the product.

“In the old days you would get a can and that was it. But now you have all these fancy tonic waters, and people actually ask, ‘what’s your tonic water?’” 

“My vision would be to make people ask: ‘where’s your ice from?’ 

“You’re taking a great gin. You mix it with a premium carbonated tonic water.

“Then you’re going to put low quality ice in it? That dilution kills all the flavour.”

Person, Human, ClinicSupplied
Artisan Ice Co., founded by John Gillespie, who has worked in the Dubai hospitality industry for 15 years

Golden ice cubes

Gillespie has a team of 10 people at his facility. The water he uses goes through a four-stage process before it is frozen: a paper filter, a charcoal filter, an osmosis tube, and an ultraviolet tube.

“This is an ultra tech system that removes all the impurities and bacteria to make sure that it’s a food grade product. 

“After three days, you have a clear block of ice. We put it on a hoist, and then we cut it into the right size, and repeat,” he explained.

The ice costs AED87.50 ($23.83) for a pack of 25 cubes measuring six square inches. 

As well as cubes, the company also offers marble-shaped and diamond-shaped ice, which costs up to AED150 for a pack of 25. 

For an extra cost, the ice can also then be customised or branded with specific symbols or logos.

But, being Dubai, Gillespie also has a luxury, high-end version in the works: “We’re going to be playing with gold flakes as well. 

“We have a gold element in the ice, more for the non-alcoholic coffee shop local market.”

Outdoors, Nature, IceSupplied
Clinking in the drinks of Dubai’s discerning purists

Spotting a gap in the market

Gillespie admits that his ice is more expensive. It’s justified because of the extra work and care involved, he says.

“The competitors will offer cheaper prices because they’ll see that they’ve had it good for years. We’re providing a better product, more craftsmanship.”

As it stands, the Middle East and Africa ice maker market is currently growing at an annual rate of 3.4 percent, according to a report by Data Bridge Market Research.

It’s expected to be worth $142.55 million by 2029, but Gillespie hopes his plan to disrupt the sector will boost it even further.

He also has his eye on the residential consumer market. The concept is to have unmanned fridges containing the ice in key locations. 

Using a QR code, consumers will be able to access the fridges and get their ice.

“I call it the new ice age. There’s clearly a gap in the market for someone like me.

“The good thing about Dubai is it’s responsive, I wouldn’t be surprised if two or three people copy the model.”

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