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‘Social’ restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani on how to make it big in the industry



It is often said that some of our most distinct and vivid memories in life are most likely to be related to food. The reason being that food is the only thing known to mankind that has the power to arouse more than one of our senses at a given moment.

A good plateful of food can tantalise the life out of us with its aroma, and draw us into its spell with a mere glance or sniff. A dish well prepared can make us drool all over ourselves, and take us to deliciously unknown places with just a mouthful. So it must be true when they say that “food is a universal language”, one that needs no translation regardless of where you are.

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

One man tapped this universality of food to his benefit, and changed how Indians experienced and interacted with food. Riyaaz Amlani set out on a gastronomical expedition over 17 years ago, and today owns a dominant chunk of Mumbai’s most popular restaurants right from Mocha, to Social and Smokehouse Deli amongst many others which make up to 50 restaurants in all as of today, while also giving the rest of the nation a taste of its world-class food experience.

The Backstory

The start to this marvellous journey began with Riyaaz starting out as a shoe salesman. This soon morphed into a brief stint as an entrepreneur, when he started his own shoe shop. However, while working as a salesperson was a great learning experience, he switched to working as an entertainment consultant, and started building entertainment centres.

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

Soon a very specific trope within the industry caught Riyaaz’s attention, “while I worked on setting up those go-karting and bowling alleys for people, I soon noticed that no matter the form of entertainment options people have, food remains a constant that people go back to again and again. I shifted my attention to exploring that side of business and soon began to enjoy the food and drink part of human interaction, and that just stayed with me”, shares Riyaaz.

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry© Instagram

Back in the 90s, spaces for human entertainment and interaction were limited. “Multiplexes screened two movies a month and we only had 5 star coffee shops. This inspired me to launch Mocha – a place that was based around people and communication, where people could have a conversation and turn it into an experience mixed with food. That’s how I entered the world of restaurant business.”

Looking Back: Then & Now

Initially when Riyaaz started out, he had one one friend he truly relied on. He still has that friend in his life, but he has also made new ones along the way. Today he is married, has a kid and has achieved most of his childhood dreams. “But that desire to create is still there”, quips Riyaaz.

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

However, unlike what most entrepreneurs would say, Riyaaz had no eureka moment. “Instead it was more like a facepalm moment. Much like “ye kyu nahi socha maine”, adds Riyaaz. He states that life is a series of coincidences which drives us forward. He further states that, “a lot of times if you think something is impossible, that’s all the more reason to do it.”

However, he also believes merely the decision to do something is not enough, because he places due importance on luck. Riyaaz tells us that, “luck is very important, but it’s also true that the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

It’s Easy To Give Up, But Perseverance Is Key

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

Like it is in any other line of work, Riyaaz has also been through the daily trails of “work”. He told MensXP that, “There hasn’t been a single day I haven’t hated being in this business, and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t loved being in the business. The conflict is always there. However, in the end, what matters is your willingness to keep going back and enjoy it. In this line of work one is lucky to meet new people, travel and keep creating. It becomes difficult to complaint after a point.”

What Makes A Successful Restaurateur

Riyaaz believes that different people bring different approaches and energies to a business, and all of them are successful in their own right. He also thinks it’s interesting because each person adds a different dimension to the business and overall experience. “Different people, different outlooks and different experiences. It is hard to say which is superior”, says Riyaaz. However he pointed out these top three attributes that a successful restaurateur must possess:

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

“One must possess a spirit of generosity. Be a good host. This business is not for people who count every penny, but only those who enjoy feeding people and entertaining them will make it. They also need to be thick skinned since it’s a tough business. Imagine having to deal with 37 government departments to just sell a sandwich. People can be nasty to you in this line of work at times and wouldn’t appreciate your sacrifices and efforts. So being thick skinned in vital. Lastly, they ought to have a deep sense of empathy for customers and people in general.”

Failure Is The Best Teacher

While all else has been said and done, Riyaaz claims that “failure is the best teacher even in this line of work, like any other. You have to have the ability to bounce back and dream bigger, with a ‘nothing to lose’ kind of mindset. Adversity is the best kind of teacher.” He also shared that there have been two separate instances when his company was very close to going under, but that only made him appreciate good times and not take things for granted.

MensXP Up The Ladder: 'Social' Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani On How To Make It Big In The Industry

#RiyaazSpeaks: How To Become A Restaurateur

Of course we had to ask Riyaaz to give aspiring F&B entrepreneurs a heads up with some valuable personal insights on how to make it as a restaurateur, and here is what he said:
“There are two things you can do to make it. Either do something new and innovative which hasn’t been done before, or do something that has been done before but do it better. But before all that, you have to introspect, and explore the heritage and history we have in India to seek inspiration. Look inward and not outward to make it.”

Riyaaz has been a leading name in India’s F&B industry, and his insights will surely help you to start out feeling a lot more prepared.

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