Sattviko, a vegetarian restaurant chain, is keen on introducing India to age-old sattvik principles in a brand new fusion avatar. In this fiscal, the company plans to open one fine dining establishment in Ghaziabad and reach out to six more cities from its current tally of five casual restaurants in New Delhi and one fine dining restaurant in Jaipur…
Imagine this, a friend’s got a promotion on the job and he treats you out to a meal at a restaurant that has fusion food on its menu, but wait, it’s a vegetarian establishment that doesn’t include onion or garlic in its recipes. You’d possibly be viewing that treat with the same sort of trepidation as I was my interview with Prasoon Gupta, founder and director, Sattviko, a restaurant chain that follows the sattvik principles of cooking and eating food. “We set out to create a brand that was defined by its ‘Indianness’ and food was a natural direction as Ankush (Sharma, co-founder) and I love food,” says Gupta. He takes his time to explain to me the sort of fare one can expect at Sattviko. Understanding the difference between a good ol’ pasta and a pasta makhni, which is a promise of pasta in rich, creamy goodness, gets me closer to believing that people might not view the restaurant’s food as plain or boring. I’m still intrigued by the omission of basic ingredients such as onion and garlic and Gupta explains, “Ayurveda terms these ingredients as tamasik and they were typically used in the formulation of medicines. These are also treated as extreme energy sources that produce undesirable reactions when consumed as food.” As I take it all in, we chat over the beginning of this new Indian chapter, born out of our ancient wisdom.
Dual approach to business
Sattviko was established by the founders in New Delhi in 2014 under the parent company, Rays Culinary Delights Pvt. Ltd. and its first outlet was a quick service restaurant which served the needs of a location with high footfall. In the year since, Sattviko has also moved into the fine dining space under its Sattviko Premium restaurant category. There are definite differences in menu, pricing and ambience, says Gupta, but the core offering remains the same. A meal for two at a Sattviko casual restaurant is likely to cost you up to Rs. 400 but at its fine dining restaurant it is closer to Rs. 1,200. “It makes operational sense to run both formats as they have their own advantages. It costs us anywhere between Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 15 lakh to set up a QSR outlet and up to Rs. 80 lakh to set up a fine dining restaurant but the absolute return on our investment is higher in the latter. Having said that, the QSR format is much easier to scale,” says Gupta. At present, the company has five casual restaurants in New Delhi with one fine dining restaurant in Jaipur. In this fiscal, Gupta and his team want to open another fine dining establishment in Ghaziabad and possibly reach six more cities in India.
Gupta also talks to me about Sattviko’s second business vertical, packaged foods. “We are putting a flavour spin on foods that have been written off by the current generation,” he says. I look up the company’s website and the array looks inviting; pudina makhane, gur channa, caramel cashwenuts and paan raisins, these flavours are the definition of Sattviko. The packaged food products line is available at its restaurants and also retails online to cities in India and others across the globe. Gupta is rather excited about the prospects of extending the brand philosophy to an extensive range of products to make Sattviko more of a lifestyle brand. “I see good prospects for our packaged food products as this idea is very scalable. We are looking at getting into cosmetics this year as an extension of this line,” he says. To be able to achieve this seamless brand extension, Sattviko is currently establishing a 100-acre space in Rajasthan to set up its backward integration processes.
I see good prospects for our packaged food products as this idea is very scalable. We are looking at getting into cosmetics this year as an extension of this line
Careful growth planning
Even as we discuss the funding route the founders have taken to scale, Gupta clearly distinguishes between the two business verticals and shares that there were two types of funding raised; one, to grow the restaurant business to gain brand visibility and two, to quickly scale the packaged foods business to possibly move into aligned extensions. In February 2015, the company raised a round of angel funding to the tune of Rs. 2 crore and it will be careful on how it spends this money. “We are nearly profitable and will not look at aggressive brick and mortar expansions,” stresses Gupta. The focus is to grow organically and establish a solid foundation or as Gupta puts it, pay salaries from money generated by the business itself, not through funds raised.
I throw a question about the company’s attitude towards a loss making outlet, for which Gupta says, “While we have not experienced that yet, we would hold out for a few months and then look to move on.” For now, Sattviko’s focus is on growing business at its current outlets and adding carefully to its tally. “We are also viewing opening a restaurant in a foreign country soon and are reviewing different locations including places closer to India and further away like North America,” shares Gupta.
Hungry for entrepreneurs
As is always the case with the food retail business, finding the right people fit has been a challenge for Sattviko too. Interestingly, this is where the core team’s strategy veers from the usual and it looks to absorb as many small-time entrepreneurs as it can. “We have a vast social network and come across several entrepreneurs and we as a company are hungry to hire them,” quips Gupta while adding that some entrepreneurs want to join the company as a means to scale and others join it as they share its vision and philosophy. Its recent acquisition of Call a Meal, a Jaipur-based company is an example of the same. As Gupta says, it made sense to acquire Call a Meal given its expansion to Jaipur.
On the ground, there is training imparted at different levels to the workforce and Sattviko is keen on hiring people with different backgrounds, including the differently-abled.
The company has not invested in marketing beyond what is now the norm of creating a buzz on social media. “We don’t advertise aggressively and let word-of-mouth work for us,” adds Gupta. The extent of its advertising is print advertisements in community-based wedding magazines.
As our chat draws to a close, Gupta is candid enough to admit that for any startup, the first few years are when the face of the business or the founders hold significant value. “When the chatter moves from the founders to the business, that is when you know you have arrived and we are working towards that,” he concludes.
Snapshot :Sattviko ( Rays Culinary Delights Pvt. Ltd.)
Founders: Prasoon Gupta, Ankush Sharma
City: New Delhi