Priyank Sukhija’s New Delhi based Lazeez Affaire Group, which is known for its service and variety, is now planning to take its brand pan India and is seeking external funding to enhance this growth
“I am my own competition,” says Priyank Sukhija, New Delhi based serial restaurateur and owner of Lazeez Affaire Group of restaurants. Indeed, with 21 casual dining restaurants in New Delhi, he finds there’s a healthy competition within the family. The irony is, he keeps such a low profile, that many of his customers may not even be aware that they are visiting different restaurants belonging to the same group!
That, however, is not the only reason he says this. He has been experimenting with décor and menu to make each of his ventures unique. For instance, while the fare at Out of the Box cafe cuts across cuisines, Fat Ninja serves Asian food; Fork You serves American, Italian and Tex-mex; Raas offers Pakistani cuisine while Chamanlal and Sons is all about the quirky. And then, there’s Hybrid, a café by day and bar by night. This young entrepreneur whose company has commenced expansion beyond the boundaries of the capital city likes variety and believes his customers have come to expect something different with each offering, be it in cuisine, décor or entertainment.
Sukhija has never, and does not want to, start copy pasting his successful ventures but create new ones depending on demand and tastes.
Slow and steady
Sukhija’s entry in the business began in 1999, when his father financed his first restaurant in a property belonging to the family; a 70-cover restaurant that now has grown to 200-covers. In 16 years, he has opened 21 restaurants and is planning to open the next eight over the next six months.
“The growth in the initial stages was slow. After 1999, we opened the next restaurant in 2003, then one in 2006 and one in 2010. But, between 2011 and 2015, the growth has been brisk,” he explains. Each of the restaurants is a bar with casual dining and different from the other. One of the most important learnings for Sukhija has been to pace himself and give the customers what they want. “They are the masses, the spenders and typically, they come from upper middle class. They come for unwinding and entertainment. Give them the entertainment that they want, not what you think they should want,” he states while adding that he learnt this lesson the hard way. “I love jazz and introduced it in one of my restaurants. People did not like it and I quickly withdrew it,” he shares.
With an eye for detail he is involved right from design of the restaurant to the menu. “Casual dining, non-intimidating ambience and friendly service are important to make people feel at home,” he points out while adding that these are the hallmark of his group.
Sukhija rarely gets a chance to vacation, but when he does, he prefers to travel abroad and also use the opportunity to observe and learn about the local cuisine and décor. These then serve as inspiration for menu ideas at his own restaurants.
A loyal experience
Social media plays a big role in the promotion of the group’s restaurants. Events are a very important brand promotion tool for the group and social media helps spread the word through announcements, posting event pictures on the site to increase visibility.
Whenever a new restaurant is opened, a big launch party is organized where existing loyal customers are invited. Most events go on for a week to enable the customers to experience the new launch.
The corporate team is 30-strong and handles purchase, HR, marketing and more. A fair number of the group’s employees have started their careers here and risen in the ranks over the years.
On new ground
While Sukhija is planning on starting more restaurants of the same format but with different cuisine in New Delhi, he has also started expanding beyond, in Hyderabad and Pune, to begin with. “Most of my investors have been high net-worth individuals, who preferred to invest in my ventures in New Delhi. But now I am expanding beyond and will seek venture funding,” he says.
Sukhija has never, and does not want to, start copy pasting his successful ventures but create new ones depending on demand and tastes. He opened six new restaurants in New Delhi in the last six months and is planning eight to nine more over the next six months, including outside New Delhi. While in Pune, the group has entered directly, it is experimenting with the franchise route in Hyderabad.
When asked about challenges, Sukhija is quick to bring to notice, the laws that govern the industry. The byelaws, especially those related to the serving of liquor, are themselves a big hurdle and the industry association is doing its best to talk to the government to make the laws more realistic.
The second challenge is to constantly invent or reinvent food to keep the customers’ interest in place. Maintenance of the décor is yet another challenge this business faces as well as ensuring a social buzz by conducting events. Last year, the group aggregated a turnover of Rs 135 crore, 45,000 individual customers and 1,30,000 in repeat customers. In 2016-17, he expects a growth rate of 50-60 percent and higher if he gets external funding.
Sukhija is also funding a technology solution that will be developed for food, fashion and lifestyle. The app is expected to be released by the end of this year.
“I love doing what I am doing. To do it for as long as I can, that, is my vision for myself,” he says and signs off.
Venture: Lazeez Affaire
Founder: Priyank Sukhija
Focus: Bars and casual dining
Founded in: 1999
Funded by: HNIs
TWIST TO THE ‘TAIL
Priyank Sukhija’s love for food prompted him to start his first 70-cover restaurant in New Delhi in 1999. In 16 years, he has opened 20 more in the city and one each in Pune and Hyderabad.In the early days he went slow, opening a new restaurant every couple of years but, between 2010 and 2015, the remaining were opened in quick succession. Hygiene, safety, quality, ambience and service – Sukhija believes all these play a part in ensuring the success of a restaurant. In addition, he also keeps his customers’ interest alive by providing the kind of entertainment they like in his restaurants. The launch of a new restaurant is a big affair where loyal customers get to preview the new dining experience. Funded till now by HNIs Sukhija now intends to seek external funding for expansion plans that include the other Indian metropolitans.