Malls are changing. A decade ago, people would come for the retail, get hungry during the shopping experience and stay for the food. Now, people tend to choose a mall based on the dining options available.

“It’s a different experience,” says Gulf Related managing director and general counsel, Daniel Parry. “They’re not necessarily coming to shop. We set up our business model for people to come three or four times a week for different experiences and for different attractions. One night it might be a great dinner at La Petite Maison or Zuma, another day it might be a quick breakfast with a friend or a lunch experience or a shopping experience.”

The business model Parry is referring to is The Dining Collection at The Galleria. Set in the UAE capital’s central business district on Al Marayah Island, The Galleria has more than 130 retail outlets and is home to renowned fashion brands including Celine, Diane von Furstenberg, Jimmy Choo and Alexander McQueen. However, its roster of restaurants is what makes this project remarkable. More than 25 home-grown and international brands, both casual and elevated have made a home in this hub. The likes of Zuma and Roberto’s were joined by La Petite Maison, Coya, Nusr-Et, and Spanish/Japanese concept 99 Sushi towards the end of 2017.

Parry’s role at Gulf Related is all-encompassing. On a commercial level, it includes managing the leasing team, overseeing the marketing team and taking a leading role in the day-to-day corporate office and project operations. Coming from a legal background, it’s safe to say that F&B curation wasn’t initially part of Parry’s role. Less than a year after coming to the UAE from New York as legal counsel, his role began to change: “I actually negotiated most of the leasing deals with all of our tenants, both retail and F&B. Over time, I got more and more into commercial and less into legal and when it came to the F&B, I really took over curating and creating relationships with people. The whole industry is based on personalities and working with great people.”

When Gulf Related came to the region eight-and-a-half years ago, choosing Abu Dhabi and more specifically, Al Maryah Island, was an easy decision. Parry explains: “We worked with Mubadala to fine-tune what is now The Galleria and The Dining Collection. One of the key things that we fell in love with was the location. It was up-and-coming and not just a central business district of Abu Dhabi, but the downtown of Abu Dhabi. To us, downtown is all about lifestyle, living, business, community and it’s about a sense of place.”

Al Maryah Island houses, and is within close proximity to, an impressive number of both commercial and residential tenants: “It’s in the heart of the population of Abu Dhabi. The statistic that we often use is that we’ve got about 400,000 of Abu Dhabi’s residents living within five kilometres of our project. We’ve got two million ft2 of office space which translates to about 12,000 people every day working within the project.”

Much like its Dubai counterpart, Dubai International Financial Centre, Al Maryah Island is an ode to modern architecture. Impossible structures converge to create a dramatic landscape that has succeeded in attracting the biggest names in commerce, retail and F&B. Parry says: “I have had meetings with the best retailer groups in the world and everyone says this is an iconic location and we agree.”

“One of the things that you need to have as a developer is vision. Fortunately, Related, founded by Stephen Ross and our boss Kenneth Himmel have had incredible vison on how to create a mixed-use project.”

With the right location and infrastructure in place, Parry set about selecting restaurants that would stand the test of time. The first F&B tenant that Parry and his team approached was Zuma. Parry explains: “Eight years ago, Zuma had only been in Dubai for two years. Related approached Zuma and worked with them to convince them that we were a tremendous opportunity for them. To Zuma’s credit, they had the vision and foresight to buy into what we were developing.”