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An appetite for success


BANGALORE: Four chef-entrepreneurs on how they used their culinary skills and years of kitchen management to build a business from the ground up

After 28-plus years of working at various five-star hotel groups across the country, chef Nabhojit Ghosh was a bit stumped when the CEO of a private equity firm approached him to head a South Indian QSR format restaurant chain. “My first thought was… a vegetarian South Indian restaurant after the glitterati of fine dine and world cuisine?” Looking back, Ghosh is happy to have stepped out of his comfort zone and taken up the challenge. In 20 months’ time, Ghosh designed and opened 17 new Vasudev Adiga’s outlets as well as a catering kitchen with 25,000 meal capacity. It wasn’t long before Ghosh realised that he could channel his innovative ideas and considerable experience in the kitchen to build his own brand. After a pit stop at food tech start-up FreshMenu where Ghosh worked as the chief culinary officer curating menus and operating 26 kitchens in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Gurgaon, he decided to partner with long-time friend and Harvard Business School alumni Joseph Cherian to set up a food delivery service called 48East in August 2016. With close to 10,000 orders per month across five kitchens in Bengaluru, Ghosh says that he is just at the start of his entrepreneurial journey. “We will not only be expanding the brand but also set up other verticals in future,” says the 55-year-old, who has raised $500K (`3.3 crore, approx) from the Al Dhaheri family based in UAE as well as $250K (`1.7 crore, approximately) from Agra-based ACPL exports.

Like Ghosh, there are several chefs who have taken the plunge and while the big dream is to open one’s own restaurant, it’s interesting to note that most of the chef-entrepreneurs we spoke to have more than one avenue of revenue.

Chasing a bigger dream

Perhaps, the most important factor is timing. Most chefs, who have gone to establish successful businesses, have done their time in the kitchen. As Abhijit Saha, whose restaurants Caperberry and Fava are well-established in Bengaluru, says, “As a chef, there are a few options in front of you. You can go on to become a senior chef; go abroad and pursue your career or become an entrepreneur and open your own place. After 18 years of working as a chef across five-star restaurants [his last assignment was executive chef and director of F&B for The Park Hotels], I realised it was now or never,” says Saha, who spent the last year of his job prepping himself for the plunge. He went on to set up Avant Garde Hospitality in 2008 under which he runs his restaurants Caperberry, Fava and Saha (a joint venture restaurant in Singapore), undertakes catering as well as consults with various F&B brands. “I started my consultation work about two years after I set up Fava and Caperberry. Apart from consulting for restaurants, we also work with corporate houses such as Embassy Group, Wipro and Star TV and help them with facility management as well as setting up staff kitchens,” says the 48-year-old, who learnt a lot from his time as the pre-opening chef for The Manor’s boutique hotel. “It was a sea change because I was working with architects and designers, liaising with vendors, training staff, etc.” Clearly, there’s no substitute for experience.

Turning 40 was one of the key reasons why Sabyasachi Gorai, who was then working as the culinary director at Olive Bar & Kitchen, decided to hand in his apron in 2012. “I wanted a change. After 20-odd years in the industry, I felt it was time to do something on my own.” The New Delhi-based chef, who heads Big Brewsky’s kitchen in Bengaluru, set up his boutique consultancy company Fabrica by Chef Saby in 2013 under which he operates three restaurants (Lavaash by Saby, Mineority by Saby and Eywa by Saby), conducts culinary pop-ups and events, provides hospitality and manpower consultancy, hosts online and TV shows and is also developing a line of packaged foods. “Most chefs don’t have a head for business; in which case it probably makes sense to partner with someone who does. And you have to have exceptional culinary skills to succeed. There are times when I have done pop-ups all on my own.”

Time for work and play

Being your own boss also means better time management which is another concern for time-pressed chefs. For instance, Ghosh recalls an incident that took place some years ago when he was working for a five-star property. “It so happened that the Italian Prime Minister was visiting my hotel and my son was also very sick. I didn’t know who to take care of. I rushed my son to a hospital and left him there with my wife and then went to the hotel. Even today, I am very busy but at least I have the opportunity to juggle my schedule as per my requirement.”

A similar thought went through Tanmoy Savardekar’s mind before he quit as the executive pastry chef at Olive Beach after working there for over seven years. “I was also handling the hot kitchen and some days we’d go in the morning and leave only the next morning. After years of this, it starts taking a toll and I decided to get out of this kind of F&B production. I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family and friends,” says the 44-year-old who set up his bakery Winking Macaron in 2013.

From chef to consultant

Over the last few years though, Savardekar has been involved as a consultant for various F&B brands. In fact, this appears to be a popular line of work among chef-entrepreneurs – whether it’s setting up a restaurant or coffee shop from ground up to revamping an existing menu. From securing licenses, designing menus and interiors, vendor management, staff recruitment and branding, the services vary as per the requirements of the brand. “I generally work on two-three projects a year. I submit a master proposal to the client with six-seven options of our scope of work and then they decide what they want us to be involved in,” says Savardekar, adding, “When I joined Olive, I was part of it from ground up. Even when I set up my bakery, I had to figure out licenses, vendors, etc. So, I know what needs to be done and whom to approach.”

Diversify to succeed

Like Savardekar and Saha, Gorai, too, wears multiple hats. Speaking to us from Thailand where he is conducting research for an upcoming project, the 45-year-old says, “For the first year [of launching Fabrica], I survived on my savings; there was no income. In the third year, we invested whatever money we had made [through consultations] to set up my restaurants and then we were hit by demonetisation and GST. But now, almost six years after I quit my job, things are more stable and I have the power to travel and invest in a couple more restaurants,” says Gorai, who has consulted for brands such as Beer Café, SodaBottleOpenerWala, Junglee Billee, Destination One, Antares, among others. While the established rate for consultation projects range between `4-5 lakh, Gorai candidly admits that he charges almost four times more. “I take up only one or two projects a year and build a concept from scratch.” At his Fabrica office, Gorai works with a draftsman to plan and design commercial kitchens – right from the plumbing to the equipment design.

The key to succeed as a chef-entrepreneur, it would seem from example, is to always have a back-up plan. “Being an entrepreneur is a mixed bag. F&B is an unstable business. But I enjoy working on my terms and on different kinds of projects. It gives you an opportunity to express yourself creatively as well as a business person,” says Saha, adding that it’s always advisable to have either a catering or consultation job along with running one’s own restaurant given the vagaries of the business. “But don’t sacrifice one for the other. Always invest in good people because you can’t compromise on anything,” adds Saha, who has 90 employees at Avant Garde Hospitality and is now busy with setting up Rock Salt on Museum Road [which he will be operating and managing], a pizzeria in Indiranagar as well as a newly-opened microbrewery, Red Rhino.

On his part, Gorai advises, “This is the time when a small dream can hatch into something big. The country is growing, but you have to do your homework. It’s not going to happen by default or because it has worked for somebody else.”

Source: Bangalore Mirror

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