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A good restaurant visit is a 60-minute holiday that should satiate the soul, says foodpreneur Ashish Dev Kapur


One man’s agony is often another man’s ecstasy.

For Ashish Dev Kapur, the Supreme Court ruling in March prohibiting hotels and restaurants located 500 m off the highway from serving alcohol was both, agony and ecstasy, rolled into one.

For Kapur, the owner of The Wine Company, an exclusive wine-only restaurant in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub, the apex court ruling was a sudden hit.

“The Supreme Court ruling was a bolt from the blue. We were completely taken by surprise,” Kapur says about his 250-seater wine restaurant, settling in for a chat at the sprawling Whisky Samba located within the One Horizon Center complex, a hub of office and commercial activities in Haryana’s tech town.

But The Wine Company’s loss seems to have been Whisky Samba’s gain. A concept restaurant and bar that wanted to “add fun to whisky”, Whisky Samba came into being earlier in February this year. And somehow its timing seemed just right with many of the office-going crowd ditching the famed Sector 29 market that was by hit the SC ruling to have a good time over malt.

Making Malt Fun

Once you enter Whisky Samba, you understand that the buzz is not misplaced. For malt lovers, there’s finally a chance to proclaim a space that they vicariously want to own, an equivalent of a Beer Café, a beer-specific chain run by beerpreneur Rahul Singh. Visually appealing, this bistro-cum-restaurant is not about high stools and movie-poster interiors that dominate almost all NCR eateries.

There is a back-lit bar, flanked by several hundred bottles, with their reflection in the mirror above adding an imposing touch. It’s spacious and soaked in sunlight, and the tan leather sofas with the mahogany-look upright chairs outside give it an international flair.

And for Kapur creating a cosmopolitan and international-looking place like Whisky Samba was not too difficult. Nursing a fresh lime drink, he recalls having spent a large part of his formative years outside India – schooled in Italy which is the land of food and drink – thanks to his father’s job in the Indian Foreign Services, and his own stint with GE Capital in the United States.

“I always wanted to come back. And the choice for me was either to explore a multinational or try my hand at building something,” he recalls, smiling.

But for a first-generation entrepreneur, it was not easy convincing his own, and outsiders as well.

“No one in the family had ever done business and I was a complete novice. I had raised capital, went bankrupt, built it back up again. And in over a decade, I managed to create about 4-5 different brands,” the man behind the famous YoChina chain, and Dimsum Brothers, says.

Food For Thought

If dining has been his pet project, there’s reason behind it. For over the past decade that Kapur has been here, he says that digital technology and telephony, together, have precipitated a huge change in the way people dine, and there’s no better place than India to build a brand.

“Thanks to high disposable incomes, people are travelling more, dining out frequently. More importantly, they want variety” he notes, referring to the aspiration-driven, well-heeled Indian.

And his new venture, Whisky Samba, attempts to make the ‘discerning’ Indian consumer happy by offering 140 varieties of malts. From the 12-year-old Cragganmore to the 15-year-old Dalwhinnie and the more dependable Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie, there’s something for all kinds, it seems.
Woody, musk-like, earthy, sedate – Kapur says the collection has been carefully crafted, being the result of months of travel, research and tastings, followed by more travels and even more tastings! And for an audience used to a 12-year-old Black Label or a Chivas, reorienting malt habits meant doing things slightly differently.

Problem Of Plenty? 

But in an over-crowded food and beverages market, where the shelf-life is typically low, how does a niche, exotic offering like Whisky Samba work?
From the name (a touch of Samba to add zest and youthfulness) to the varieties to the way it is served (with the server placing the bottle on the table and pouring it with a peg), and having a Noma-returned chef Akshay to boast, Kapur says that there was a method to the madness in creating something “different and offbeat” with a character of its own.
“A good restaurant visit is ideally a 60-minute holiday. It’s not just the food or beverage but the soul that should be satisfied and satiated, and you should go out smiling,” he says.And having set up multiple, niche brands he knows that dining concepts won’t work in India unless foodpreneurs are able to own the genre. For the man who came up with the concept of making dimsums and meals-in-a-box trendy, and wine a not-so-snobbish affair, change seems to be the only constant.“With each passing year, the Indian consumer is becoming more aware, and developing global tastes. So, anyone who wants to survive and sustain in the food business, must be able to better his/her own experience,” the telecom-engineer-turned-entrepreneur, says.Whisky, as the wit said, is risky. But, in this case, Ashish Dev Kapur seems to have the un-bottled genie on his side.
Source:  Economic Times

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