Restaurateur and MD of Olive Bar & Kitchen, AD Singh, believes India is now seeing a casual, affordable dining wave and he wants to capitalise on this by offering quality service at an average price for two ranging from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1,000 (including alcohol). To implement this well, Singh is nurturing chef-entrepreneurs and delivering ESOPs, much like in the technology business.
That life comes a full circle couldn’t be truer, especially for restaurateur AD Singh. When Singh made his first foray into the industry in 1990, he began by investing Rs. 50,000 in a standalone coffee and dessert concept inside an Iranian Café. It was called Just Desserts. Today, close to three decades later, that seemed to have paid off, for his new concept Sodabottleopenerwala, a quintessential Bombay Irani café and bar is already bustling with energy on most days in Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai.
So, what’s his trade secret in keeping this momentum going with his customers? “As cliché as it sounds, it’s sheer hard work,” he notes and adds, “As a team, we always work on improving our menu, keeping an ear on the ground to listen to what people want, what is the market tending towards and of course, some research studies to support our stand.”
Some of my chefs, Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal, were getting blank cheques from others. So, we had to arrive at a model where they would be given an opportunity to create their own brand, as subsidiary companies, within the group
– On the origin of Monkey Bar and Fatty Bao
The Casual Dining Wave
The restaurant scene in India today has taken a drastic turn, with invitations to new launches crowding mailboxes almost every week. But, gone are the days when fine dining was the norm. As Singh points out, the country is tending towards a casual, affordable dining space and that is where he wants to be. While Olive Bar & Kitchen, born in 2000, catered to a fine dining model, with the average price for two ranging from Rs. 1, 500 to Rs. 2,000, he now wants to further capitalise on restaurants, such as Olive Bar, Sodabottleopenerwala and Monkey Bar, which will serve for two (including alcohol) at Rs. 600 to Rs. 1,000. “The Indian market is growing at a rapid pace, and there is particularly a huge opportunity in the casual dining space. We believe our strength lies in creating good quality restaurants and bars which are approachable and affordable, especially for the youth,” he states.
But this opportunity comes with its fair share of challenges. Key among them being, having its best Chefs being taken away by others. In fact, the origin of Fatty Bao and Monkey Bar could be traced to one such incident. As Singh narrates, “Some of my chefs, Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal, were getting blank cheques from others. So, we had to arrive at a model where they would be given an opportunity to create their own brand, as subsidiary companies, within the group.” A second strategy it adopts to retain talent is offer ESOPs, typically like in the IT industry. Singh adds that this has also helped attract new talent into the company. “And lastly, we always lookout for our team and help them grow, so that in turn they help the business grow. We believe we can create a career path for them for life,” he notes and adds that there are employees who have been with the company for 10 to 15 years now.
Taking the Organic Approach to Growth
With Aditya Birla PE, which had invested US $10 million in the business in 2012, seeking an exit from the venture, Singh reveals that the company plans to rely on accruals for the time period, to expand its presence. “We want to grow our existing brands through the organic route. In the coming years, we may either consolidate with other companies or look at public markets to help us grow. We will plan this with our future investors,” adds he. With 30 restaurants setup across seven cities, the goal now for Singh is to take this number to 100 in 10 cities in the next five years, and continue to dabble in the affordable dining space, before a new wave of eating out hits the market.
Clichéd yet Critical Lessons for Foodpreneuers
- Customer is king. They are the ones who keep you in business.
- Success comes from hard work.
- Always focus on profitability
- Build good teams around you and empower them
- Be fair to everybody in your marketplace.