young food entrepreneurs tell us why creating culinary hotspots in Chennai is all about quality and location
The young minds behind recent ventures like Peaches, Lloyd’s Tea House and Dessert Safari are proof that Chennai is in for a fresh new wave of ideas. While chatting with the youngsters behind some of the city’s most successful restaurants, we find that many of them have switched careers to pursue their passion. These five restaurateurs tell us why there’s no business like the food business.
The Mad Chef
Chef Koushik Shankar’s premier venture, Eatitude Gourmet Technologists, is the company to head to for those looking to realise your food dream.
At 37, Shankar aka The Mad Chef, has consulted for restaurants like Dewberry’s, Simply South and Peaches as well as for institutional catering at IIT Madras. He provides solutions in concept, menu, material, marketing and management. “Through the company, I am able to encourage young entrepreneurs to set foot and create a successful venture in this recession-proof industry,” shares the chef. Details: eatitude.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rohit Zachariah, Mash
It might come as a surprise to some that Mash in Besant Nagar was actually an unexpected success.
“We were hardly out of college when we started Mash in 2007,” says Rohit Zachariah, one of the three cousins behind the restaurant. “The idea was actually to start something for ourselves — that’s why Mash is a fusion of all our favourites,” he laughs. In 2011, they opened Mash The Grill House in Nungambakkam, which was not a branch, but an extension of the original, and early this year, they replaced The Grill House with a multi cuisine restaurant — The Curry Club. Why, we hear you ask. “Mash and The Grill House were two different concepts, but confusion arose because they shared the same name. Besides, Nungambakkam has a large corporate crowd and providing a multi cuisine option made sense,” explains Zachariah, 31, who plans to open a branch of Mash next year. “Though not immediately, we’re also looking at franchising Mash in the future,” he adds. Should we expect anything else from him? “I’m looking at a concept that takes expensive dishes and offers them at lower prices, by cutting down on overheads. But that’s still in planning,” he offers.
The next rage: International chains, especially with our large expat community and new malls
Food destination: Goa — for the amazing seafood and mix of cuisines
Recommendations: Pork spare ribs at Dynasty, ice cream at Amadora, grilled basa at The Curry Club
The Cupcake Co
A marketing professional by qualification, Shitija Nahata, 27, turned to baking only after marriage. “I started baking when I was 17,” says Nahata.
“Four years ago, the idea of a cupcake store sounded crazy and we had to test the waters for a while. When I came up with the idea, almost everyone but my husband shot it down,” adds the entrepreneur who has extended The Cupcake Company that started in 2011, to Bangalore. Nahata agrees that one learns from experiences. “We started in Anna Nagar last February, but that did not do well. We realised that the location has a lot to do with selling our product,” she shares, adding that ensuring quality is the biggest challenge of owning multiple outlets. “I deal with that by being accessible to my customers. I am the only person who responds to every complaint or query and find it an extremely effective solution,” says Nahata, who hopes to take her brand pan India with a new store at least every two months.
Food in Chennai: The city has set very high standards of food
The next rage: Cakes for occasions besides birthdays and anniversaries. Also, desserts in jars have been doing fabulous for the past eight months
Favourites: On The Rocks at Sheraton Park, Golden Dragon at Taj Coromandel and Sandy’s
A lesson well learnt: Not just the location, but the catchment area, parking space and even the traffic play a major role in an outlet’s performance
Next milestone: 50 stores before our fourth anniversary in 2015
Pet peeve: I can’t tolerate employees not following protocol
Recommendations: The North Indian street food at Parry’s Corner, grilled chicken at Sea Shells
In April 2011, business graduate Bhuvanesh Subarayan, 28, opened a store dedicated to doughnuts. Little did he know that two years on, his Donut House would mushroom into seven outlets with an eighth coming up in Hyderabad next month. Subarayan, an entrepreneur first, spends his fair share of time in the kitchen. “I cook decent Indian and fairly good Italian,” smiles the innovator, who plans to expand to Coimbatore and Cochin, among other cities. And what does he feel has worked for his chain? “Keeping the menu strictly vegetarian (their doughnuts are made without egg) worked wonderfully,” says Subarayan, who has his eyes on a quick eat Indian restaurant concept next.
Ask him when he realised that restaurants were his calling and restaurateur Sandesh Reddy, 28, quips, “I still don’t know that. I started restaurants because no one would give me a job as a chef.” But after successes like Ox and Tomato, Go Go Ramen and his signature, Sandy’s, we’re certain this self-taught chef would have a sea of offers today. With around eight years of experience behind him, Reddy has had his share of setbacks. “With Maya, I tried giving the market something it was not ready for and that didn’t work out,” he shares, about his 2011 Nellore cuisine venture. Is there a formula that works? “I’m sure there is, but I don’t have it yet. I want to experiment and keep coming up with something new,” says Reddy, who follows the works of chefs like Jerome Chang, Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert. And the best part about owning a chocolate laboratory? “Meeting great people — I’ve met some of my best friends over dessert at Sandy’s — and working with chocolate,” he laughs.
In the pipeline: The Old Madras Baking Company
Pet peeve: I hate finger marks on plates
Food destination: Japan! There’s no mediocrity there — everything is done with commitment and it reflects in the food too
Cooking at home: I have an electric hot plate that we turn on once in four months
Recommendations: Sweet and sour pork at Rangis, natural ice cream at Saravana Bhavan, sushi at Akasaka
Another self taught chef, Arnav Bajoria spent four years in fashion design before he switched to food. “I always wanted to work with food,” says Bajoria, who trained in the kitchens of Courtyard by Marriott and Azurri Bay before setting up Soul Kitchen in 2011. His unique concept allows you to book his kitchen exclusively and Bajoria prepares the meal of your choice himself. The street food lover that he is, Bajoria’s next came this July, in the form of The Kati Roll Shop where he offers “not a snack, but a meal in the form of a roll.” A fan of the work of Anthony Bourdain and Joël Robuchon, Bajoria, 28, believes in maximising flavours with minimal ingredients. And while he does just that at Soul Kitchen (where he spends around 35 hours a week), he leaves the kati roll making to his team of experts. “I believe in a city that eats on its streets. We have some great street food cooks here and not all street food places are unclean or unhygienic. They just need to be promoted well,” he insists.
Pet peeve: Wet floors and
staff who are not in uniform
Your dream: To open a
Recommendations: The beef steak at Kebab Corner on Greams Road, the pani poori stall outside Rangoli Saris in Nungambakkam
– Ryan Peppin