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Interviews

NRAI is doing a fantastic job of keeping members updated on issues affecting the industry, and also lobbying hard on behalf of its members on matters that affect them – Gauri Devidayal

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Listed in GQ’s list of the 50 Most Influential Young Indians, she has been at the forefront of the farm to table initiative. A full time hands-on restaurateur, Gauri Devidayal, Partner, Food Matters India Pvt. Ltd. shares her insights with the NRAI.

 

Please take us through your journey. Tell us about your restaurants and their expansion plans.

I was born and brought up in Mumbai and then went to university in London where I read Law. I then qualified as a Chartered Accountant and after about 9 years there, returned to Mumbai which is when I met my husband, Jay Yousuf, who had also just returned to India after spending 26 years in the US.

He was a techie and not from the hospitality industry either but was keen to do something different in this new chapter and decided to open a restaurant. When it came to deciding the cuisine, having spent the last 15 years of his time in the US, in San Francisco, it was natural for him to want to bring a similar kind of food experience to Mumbai. Back in 2009 the restaurant industry was not what it is today. After much hunting around, we finally found the space which now houses The Table. It took us a ridiculous 14 months and changing our architect midway, to get the space ready for business in January 2011, but we are glad we took our time to get it right.

Once the restaurant was settled, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out where to open the next space, until three years later, in 2014, we took over my father’s old factory warehouse in Byculla. The location wasn’t conducive to opening a restaurant, so instead, we planned a state of the art kitchen of 2500 sq ft. Magazine St Kitchen was opened in June 2016 and is a culinary event space which can host everything from cooking workshops, to guest chef experiences, to an incubator for upcoming restaurants, to being a location for ad and movie shoots!

Around the same time, we launched our bakery business – Mag St Bread Co – with the intent to supply other cafes and restaurants around the city with fresh, handmade bakery products using only local ingredients. The bakery was a natural extension of the restaurant in that we were already making all our breads in house, and again, there seemed to be a gap in the market in terms of good quality breads.

Recently, we have also started our outdoor catering arm, Dining Table.

 

In your restaurant, The Table, you offer ingredient-driven cuisine. How did you come up with the idea?

Our restaurant is heavily inspired by the San Francisco style of food, which is very much ingredient focused. In California, the range of superior quality ingredients is unparalleled, so there were challenges to doing this in Mumbai, but I think we managed to do the best with what was available to us between locally sourced and some imported ingredients.

 

You are instrumental in introducing the ‘Farm to Fork’ concept in Mumbai. What were the difficulties that you faced and how has it evolved over the years?

As mentioned earlier, our style of food is heavily ingredient driven so developing our farm to be able to produce ingredients from seed to harvest was a natural extension, and fortunately we had the space to do it. But we had to invest a lot in making the land chemical free and viable for growing great produce. 5 years in, we are doing more than 20 types of ingredients at The Table Farm and even supplying some other restaurants in the city!

 

How do you keep yourself ahead in this competitive time?

It’s difficult to keep up with everything going on in the industry, with new restaurants opening every week, so I don’t really think of myself as trying to stay ahead. We just focus on ensuring we stay true to our vision and maintaining the consistency and quality of the dining experience at our establishments. Yes, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening within the industry, but that’s more to learn from other’s successes and mistakes. You can’t run a business second guessing what’s happening around you all the time.

 

What are your major learnings as a restaurateur?

This is probably the only industry where you get instant feedback on whether someone likes your service offering or not. The fact is, people will always have opinions, and you will never be able to please everyone all the time. There will always be diners who don’t like the food or think it’s not value for money. As a restaurateur it was hard for me to not take any criticism personally, but I’ve learnt to listen more and see where there is room for improvement. The important thing is to have faith in a concept you believe in and focus on it, and keep bettering with relevant feedback.

 

What do you do to unwind yourself? How do you keep a balance between your personal and professional life?

Netflix and travel! I love binge watching shows on my day off and sometimes we take off to our weekend home in Alibaug. And any opportunity we can, my husband, daughter and I love traveling. It’s definitely hard maintaining a balance between professional and personal especially since being a restaurateur is a 24/7 business, and to add to that, my husband and I work together. So we really have to make a conscious effort to not bring too much work to the dining table, so to speak.

 

How have you been involved with NRAI? What more can be done through the association for strengthening the restaurant sector?

We’ve been a member since the restaurant opened. NRAI is doing a fantastic job of keeping members updated on issues affecting the industry, and also lobbying hard on behalf of its members on matters that affect them.

 

One tip you would like to offer to youngsters aspiring to enter the restaurant business?

Do it for the right reasons – it may seem like a glamorous profession but that should be the last reason for getting into this industry – be prepared to probably work the hardest you ever have in your life!