All photos by Chantelle D’mello
Months after its soft opening on Qatar National Day in December, a new picturesque souq in Al Wakrah continues to attract visitors with the opening of more cafes, as well as a sea-side view and open promenade.
But a lack of indoor seating and a ban on shisha smoking appears to have made it a less popular venue during the summer months.
Situated behind the Al Wakrah petrol station and dubbed Qatar’s second Souq Waqif, the souq is a 3km development along the town’s coast, and one of the few recreational options for residents living in the southern city.
Designed to look like an aged fishing village as a homage to Al Wakrah’s heritage, the souq’s low-walled, courtyard-like areas are slated to house a wide variety of eateries and shops in the coming months.
Overseen by the Private Engineering Office, a government agency under the Emiri Diwan that provides development, project management and property management services for sites around Qatar, the project has been in the works for at least seven years.
It is part of a master plan to transform the former south coast fishing village of Al Wakrah to include more recreational, leisure and heritage offerings.
However, almost seven months after it was first opened to the public, the souq’s winding alleyways and stores seem deserted, with few cafes and only a handful of shops open for business.
Most are small coffee shops situated along the venue’s Corniche, offering minimal indoor seating and serving up a mix of quick bites and beverages to diners.
While other tourist destinations in Doha boast international franchises, popular local eateries and luxury restaurants, the focus at the Al Wakrah souq seems to be on supporting small and first-time local restaurateurs.
Speaking to Doha News, Abdullah Bourguiba, the manager at the newly opened Dar Tunis, one of the few larger dining establishments at the souq, said affordability was a key goal.
“It’s because the clientele is different. If you go to Souq Waqif, they’re catering mostly to tourists. If you go to Katara, the clients are mostly the elite. At both places, you have to spend money to have a good time.
In Wakrah, the people that live here are the middle class….who cannot afford to spend too much. So the type of restaurants that we have here cater to that. They’re small cafes that are reasonable or new restaurants that are opening for the first time.”
Pressure to open
Several new restaurants have opened up in the past few months, partly due to pressure from the souq’s management.
Bourguiba, whose restaurant opened only a few days ago, said that he, along with another restaurant owner had received notices to open immediately or risk facing penalties.
“Restaurants and cafes were given a period of three months to open initially. The small ones that you see on the sea-side managed to do that because the spaces are really small.
The bigger restaurants however…it takes time to get the decor and everything set up. This is Doha. If people say they’re going to take a week to finish up a job, it’s likely that they’re going to take a month,” Bourguiba said.
Having spent some QR30,000 in back rent, and QR700,000 to renovate the existing space, Bourguiba decided to soft open on Thursday.
“We don’t even have staff yet. We’ve had to rent staff, and we’re still constructing, but we had to open. The souq had put pressure on us, and with the bills raking up, we needed some income in,” he said, adding that a neighboring restaurant had also faced a similar situation.
According to Bourguiba and other employees at several other cafes, the souq’s management has also banned establishments from serving shisha.
“They used to allow us to serve shisha here; then on May 31, they (suddenly) changed the policy. If we had shisha here, this place would be full. But now it’s just food…people can get that anywhere…and outdoor seating, which is not what people want in the hot summers,” he said.
When Doha News visited the Al Wakrah souq yesterday, hoardings and banners for a handful of new restaurants had been put up, but the sea-facing stores had yet to open.
According to Bourguiba, a gold souq, an abaya souq, and two boutique hotels are also slated to open in the future, though a timeline for these projects remains unknown.
The souq’s Corniche, a large 3km stretch of lit-up promenades with an open beach, is also set to open in the coming months. Several bulldozers could be seen yesterday, working well into the night to level some of the beachfront areas.
The souq is also scheduled to host a pearl museum, according to the Peninsula.
Have you visited the new souq yet? Thoughts?