Tell me something about your family background, your childhood…
My family has been in the hospitality industry since the last 17 years. We own a 3-star resort Konkan Crown in Sawantwadi, Maharashtra. It is about 45-mins away from Goa. My family has also been dabbling in the seafood business in Mumbai for a long time. We are now planning to start a recreation club-like resort. So, essentially, we are deep rooted in the business.
From a very young age, I knew that I would follow my family tradition and start a business. I have always been singularly focussed. My family has been my mentor, and has strongly supported me in all my ventures. So it was easy for me to get into Mumbai hospitality.
What about your schooling?
I did my initial schooling from JamnabaiNarsee School, Vile Parle, but later on I joined Hansraj Morarji Public School, Andheri West. I have always been a sports enthusiast and Hansraj’s thriving ChandrakantPandit Cricket Club fascinated me. After finishing my schooling, I joined Mithibai College to complete my two years of junior college from the commerce stream. In 2009, I moved to Switzerland for about six-years.
In Switzerland, I joined Les Roches International School of Hotel Management – ranked as the second best school in entire world. It was a 3-year hotel management diploma program and associate degree in food and beverages, along with BBA in hotel designing and project management. It was a honors’ degree program.
I used to study for six months and then work for six. So while I was studying, I have worked with Taj hotels. I started as an intern at their corporate office at Taj Palace Colaba, because I wanted to work with and understand the Indian culture. Then they shifted me to the TajLands End in Bandra. The management wanted me to experience the differences between the clientele from Bandra and South Mumbai. I worked there for six months and moved back to Switzerland to continue with my studies. After six months, I was sent to New York to work with some of the best in the hospitality industry like the New York 5th Avenue. I worked there as a management trainee and was later promoted to Assistant in room dining. After six months, I went to Switzerland and finished my diploma. After that, I went to London at Crown Plaza, 51 Buckingham Palace as a management trainee.
What happened after that?
After completing my BBA honors, I returned to Mumbai and joined my family business as an employee. However, I was keen to do something of my own. I did have an offer from Taj, but I wanted to be an entrepreneur and do something unique. And then, I came up with Vedge – a Multi cuisine restaurant. Just like its name, it is not like any other local joint.
Coming from a hard-core non-vegetarian, the idea of Vedge was a bit shocking. But I was adamant in making it a success. I zeroed in on a location at Fun Republic, opposite to the Yash Raj Studios. The restaurant officially started six months ago, in a 200-sq ft space. Initially, I had no team. The only support system I had were my parents. I jumped into the new business venture armed with just my knowledge of the hospitality industry, restaurant designing and HR.
In the beginning, there were a lot of hindrances. Getting the requisite licences, people management and tackling unions was not easy. However, public voting on pamcity.com helped. We were competing against some of the best veg restaurants in city, well-established in their businesses for years.
According to my research, the family restaurant business wasn’t thriving but the social activity-connected ideas like nightclubs and pubs were booming – especially in Andheri. However, I was firm on my idea to tap the family segment. You cannot get a family to pub, a place where alcohol is being served. What was heartening to know was that Indians are now tending to go for vegetarian food, a la the latest season of Master Chef India. Also, Andheri has a mix of people from different economic backgrounds – actors, business families, production houses etc. so, being adamant about the vegetarian restaurant as a concept did turn out to be a perfect decision.
Currently, we offer a variety of food on our menu – including continental and Indian. I want to expand the business to places where vegetarian is preferred. I have been inspired by Vitthal Kamat – a chain of vegetarian restaurant – which has been thriving for generation.
In future, I want to expand the business in places like Gujarat.
What are your expansion plans? Are you contemplating on any joint venture?
In a hurry to expand, consistency and services do get affected. Also, we are yet to build the brand. The client has changed, especially in the consumer market. We want our paying customer to be completely satisfied by our services and return to us as our loyalists.
Considering the good response received so far, I think we have done quite well. Even location-wise, I think Fun Republic is a good venue. It attracts people of all age groups. Although there is a healthy competition around, I feel we did really well. We have given an industrial design look to the restaurant. We have put in our whole heart and soul in every aspect, be it food or ambience.
What attracts people to enter your restaurant? Tell us about your clientele.
Being a family restaurant, a lot of our clientele comprises Gujarati, Marwadi and Jain families. They come from different parts of the city, including Andheri, Ghatkopar, Malad, Borivali and Juhu. Strategically, we are located at the centre. People come all the way here to enjoy quality vegetarian food.
We mostly attract large groups, comprising everyone from children to grandparents, who come here to spend some good quality time. You get to chat, open your heart, something that one cannot do in loud music-filled pubs. We offer lunch, afternoon snacks, and an A la carte menu in the evening.
On weekdays, i.e.Monday to Thursday, we mostly attract corporates and on the weekends we see a lot of families dining with us. Corporate clientele prefer takeaway mini boxes of Indian, Pan Asian, Continental cuisine, which is served in afternoon. They can have their lunch at the desk, and it is cost effective.
We celebrate festivals throughout the year like Diwali, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. We have also with different associations like Save The Children.
We are going slow, but in the coming time we shall focus on expanding our presence.
What comes to your mind when you think of mistakes?
(Laughs) I have a “oops, that was a mistake” moment every day . I am learning constantly with my team, growing everyday with my baby. It is important that I learn everyday from these mistakes. I am 23 right now, one of the youngest restaurateur in Mumbai, may be even in India.
In this long process of build your business, what sacrifices did you have to make?
I have been working 24×7, even on Saturday and Sundays. So, I have no social life. I want to make my parents proud. They have sacrificed a lot for me. They have ensured that I get educated at the best of school, so now I am trying my best. I am a workaholic, and I am ok with that. It’s necessary if you want to attain your goal.
I did start at a very tender age, which people tell me is a mistake. But it was my decision, and I don’t agree with them. I interview senior chefs with 30-years experience, and it is humbling. It is nothing but an opportunity for me to learn from them, from their years of experience.
I don’t simply sit and count the monies. I work with my team. I want to build the brand and for that I will do whatever is required. If we are short of chefs one day, I roll-up my sleeve and work in the kitchen.
You are very humble…
A lot is to be still done, and working with the team, getting my hands messy is the best way to help.
Even if I manage to operate just one successful restaurant in my whole life, I will be happy. So, at this stage I am in no hurry. I have my family’s support, and my hard work and knowledge.
Any insight from your childhood, any learnings that you want to share?
My family got into hotel business when I was almost in my teens. My parents started a small restaurant and worked really hard. I have one young sister, who has joined me in the business. She looks after finance and marketing. Earlier, she worked as a treasury manager with Mr Mukesh Ambani for Reliance Industries.
I don’t engage in any fun activities outside my work. I do get to meet a lot of people in my line of business and this makes me happy. They give all sorts of advice, some positive and some negatives. I take negative comments in my stride as it helps me to understand where I need to work more. In our industry, you need to make your consumer happy. Market is labour intensive and you have lot of problems. But understanding those and working on it is fun.
I am trying to introduce new food items, which people may not have tasted earlier. We are also planning for weekend food, non-dairy and mock meat items. In our culture, even non-vegetarians are strict vegetarians on certain days of the week. So people need to know that such interesting vegetarian food options exist.
We are planning to create and package recipe kits and present it to our guests, so they can eat restaurant like food at their homes.
We are also planning a master class with Akanksha soon.
Tell us about any one funny incident that you remember.
Once we had guests who ordered Gujarati food. They expressed that they loved the food, but asked me to incorporate more Jain items. Then they suggested that I make this a Gujarati fusion restaurant. I was confused. When I asked them what they meant by that, they said “sab meishakkar (sugar) and Gud (jaggery) daal do” (add sugar and jaggery to everything)! (Laughs).