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Interviews

NRAI has represented the restaurant body well in recent episodes of uneducated decisions made by authorities – Priyank Sukhija

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He set up his first venture at the age of 19 and little did he know that he will alter Delhi’s hospitality industry forever. Priyank Sukhija, CEO & MD, First Fiddle F&B Pvt. Ltd. shares his journey with NRAI.

Please take us through your journey. Tell us about your restaurants and their expansion plans. Are you planning to take your brands international?

With over 30 restaurants under my ambit, my empire of restaurants has helped create a global culture of food and nightlife in India. I have been known for revolutionizing a market and turn it into a hub of fascinating outlets for people to unwind. I entered the Hauz Khas and Connaught Place before they were the way they are now and look at what extent the change has been with conic and expansive restaurants in the same vicinity catering to everyone’s need. A walk into the Connaught Place circle, you can spot my restaurant’s a stone throw away from another, and similarly, every buzzing place in Delhi has my restaurant being the centre of it all. Lord of the Drinks as a legacy with a total of 6 restaurants has extended to Mumbai and Pune, so has Tamasha in Mumbai and Flying Saucer Cafe in Lucknow. Dragonfly, in collaboration with Badshah is soon to launch while Plum Cafe with Bent Chair and Rocky Star Cocktail Bar are both running in full force in Mumbai. All of them known for their concepts and being situated in the most convenient locations with an abundance of space.

The journey still goes on with all its force and there is still so much to do and learn. We are ever growing and believe in evolving over time. I look forward to collaborating further and bring different products to the market as opposed to the same restaurant setup. We have begun on that path and the next steps involve bringing new brands to the international level and bringing the optimum use of technology to work.

I am looking to expand further and set up a great hold in the tier 2 cities of India. Tap in the markets untapped and expose them to the metropolitan culture. And then bring India’s name on the globe known for its food and drinks.

Now that you have created a name for yourself in Mumbai as well, how different is the Mumbai restaurant sector from that of Delhi?

There is a monumental difference in the restaurant sectors that sprawl in Delhi and Mumbai, both being miles apart and it has been a great journey to be able to tap them massively as we have. As you venture into a new place, you come across several factors that help you learn, improve and evolve. After successfully capturing the restaurant market in Delhi for years, it was a breath of fresh air to extend our hospitality to the people of Mumbai. Nightlife in Mumbai is incomparable as the people and bar laws are not as stringent as they are in the National Capital. People go out for late hours and you can see the places being open later in the night while Delhi shuts as the clock ticks 1 in the night. Also, how in Delhi, the public runs after liquor and hard drinks while Mumbaikars prefer cocktails more than hard drinks.

Do you think that the nightlife culture in India has evolved over the recent years?

By all means, it has and it’s unstoppable. In the last few years, we can all notice how the purchasing power has grown in the hands of people and with tremendously increasing disposable income, the culture has gone above the rooftops. A mammoth change has been observed in the last few years where people have considerably started going out more often and with packed restaurants and clubs throughout the week especially on weekends, it is the true sign of how the nightlife culture has kicked in the Indian society.

You recently launched Asia’s longest bar. What was the idea behind it?

Lord of the Drinks- Kamala Mills dons the shining and massive Asia’s longest bar and the idea behind it has been the essential, “why wait?”

I wanted to create a space for people to come and have the ease of ordering drinks, without any disturbance. So I created a bar that is long enough for people to order their drinks without waiting for another person to move out of the queue. I believe in the finest version of hospitality and as far as that is concerned, Mumbai needed a place like this.

How do you keep yourself ahead in this competitive time?

I believe it is imperative to have the power to unlearn. That helped me a lot on my way to now. What I also learned from my competitors is that you need to change and evolve in order to grow. And I tend to admire my competitors on what they bring to the table and keep innovating myself with them.

What are your major learnings as a restaurateur?

Emphasizing on my last point, I believe strongly that you have to unlearn to learn. This piece of advice I give myself and this is what I have taken as a learning being a restaurateur. Often at times, we start to replicate ourselves more than we think, we get stuck into our own routines and ideas. It is a lean and hard process to unlearn what you know and try to begin afresh. That keeps me on and growing.

How do you keep a balance between your personal and professional life?

The demarcation between work-life balances has been vague to negligible. If I have to attend an event at my outlet, I wouldn’t be able to differentiate whether it is work or play. As I said I am a people’s person and that’s half of my work so it has been pretty vague though easy for me. I would call myself fortunate in that aspect.

How have you been involved with NRAI? In your view, what more can be done through the association to strengthen the restaurant sector?

I have been associated with NRAI since its inception however I have got more closely involved recently. I am currently part of the core NRAI Managing Committee. NRAI has represented the restaurant body well in recent episodes of uneducated decisions made by authorities. Our industry has not been treated well by the policy makers historically and till date we are not recognized as an industry despite the enormous contribution to GDP and employment opportunities. One of the biggest challenge for NRAI has been to bring the wider unorganized sector under its influence and make the community stronger.

One piece of advice you would like to offer to budding entrepreneurs eager to make a mark in this industry.

My advice for a budding entrepreneur will always lie in the art of dealing with failures, being aware of the factors that lead you to fail and the points where you can improve for a successful run the next time. You need to be determined and focused and make sure your team represents the same view as you do, together you will rise and even if you fall, you can make it back up again!