Bengalureans love to eat out, and when it comes to places in the city, there are more than a handful to choose from. Some of these places are already on their way to becoming addresses…The young owners of Bangalore’s beloved restaurants and cafes tell us what got them here, and how others in the business can benefit from their story By Team Indulge
I wanted to start India’s smallest restaurant, and see how much I could create in a confined space and create public hype,” begins Nikhil Hegde, whose café, Smally’s in Frazer Town and Church Street are a runaway hit with the younger lot. All of 138 sqft, the first outlet in Ulsoor, which opened in January 2014, eventually made it to the Limca Book of Records for its size. And now, he’s talking expansion plans, with five more outlets expected in the city and maybe a few outside. The 29-year-old former event management professional shares how his diners are forced to share space with strangers and end up chatting and becoming friends with customers seated at other tables. “People don’t talk anymore. It’s surprising to see how confined spaces can help people get talking to total strangers. That was an added bonus. But the main idea behind it was to keep things simple and easy,” he says. But ‘simple and easy’ were far from it as the food was being talked about across the city as was the adorable little space and soon people were flocking to it in droves. “We were too small a restaurant and had to buy provisions and meat off the counter at stores. My chef John and I spent days together in the kitchen while my close friend would help with frantic customers waiting for orders to be chugged out of the tiny kitchen,” Hedge shares about the early days. “The initial three months were painful. There were times I wanted to give up but I was motivated by my chef who literally works 365 days a year. Friends and family kept me going too,” he adds.
In the pipeline: “There are secrets that could help you save on investment and operate a chain successfully. I have had no mentor and have learned it the hard way. I’m in the process of writing a book not for monetary purposes but to help inspire the youth to start up even a home-based food chain. It will be based on true stories of a budding restaurateur,” says Hegde.
Jasmine George & Kripalini Singh| Coffee on Canvas
Located in Koramangala, Coffee on Canvas (COC) is the coming together of two friends of 14 years — Jasmine George and Kripalini Singh.
Maybe it’s the ambience, selection of books and card games, the bean bags, the food, or the recipes of sandwich and chuski chai contributed by Singh’s makeup artiste-friend, Vikram Mittal, Coffee On Canvas, which opened in 2013, is hardly ever empty. “But honestly, cafés are not as profitable as restaurants. People come here with friends, order one Sulaimani chai (`50) each and sit for six hours. But our staff doesn’t bother them. Start a café only if you are passionate about its concept, about letting people be,” Singh continues.
Singh, who takes turn to be at COC when George is away for work, recounts a few bitter moments. There aren’t many, she says scrolling down online reviews, with a few exceptions of unhappy customer service during weekends. “A customer had a problem with the smoking zone being a few feet away from the non-smoking area. She wrote, ‘If anybody wants to die of lung disease at 15, come here. Air quality is terrible. They are so cheap that they charge for Wi-Fi, which is as cheap as molasses’. Others are laughable, for example: ‘The menu must also feature Odomos’,” she adds.
Advice for beginners: “There’s only so much you can do to keep everyone happy. Don’t forget you wanted to be here because you liked it, and wanted to be happy, yourself,” Singh says.
For someone whose family business involves providing
kitchen equipment to leading café brands, it comes as no
surprise that Amit Roy chose to set up a restaurant of his own. The staggering success of the very first Watsons, at Ulsoor, though was quite a surprise for Roy, who recounts how the lift to their fourth floor space didn’t work for the first two months of operations. Now at 14 months, the cafe is packed to capacity on weekends and weeknights, forcing people to drive over to their second branch in Vasanth Nagar.
With a third outlet expected by next month in JP Nagar, Roy says, “Watsons aims to be a just-around-the-corner venue, that is frequented by a lot of regulars. JP Nagar is one of the new suburbs in Bengaluru that is in need of a friendly neighbourhood watering hole,” says Roy, adding, “The restaurant business is not something you can do if you’re looking to make some quick money. It’s a lot of hours, lots of hard work and dedication. You can only do it if you are passionate,” he shares.
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Roy so far, and he tells us how customers sometimes help lighten the mood. “There was this one instance where a client took home our card swiping machine and we caught it on CCTV. He however returned it, saying it fell into his bag by mistake but we knew better. We then found out it was part of a game of truth or dare,” reveals Roy.
To budding restaurateurs: Take your time. Cross your ‘t’s and dot your ‘i’s; get a food consultant on board and do it only if you are willing to put in the time.
Rhea D’Costa| A Hole Lotta Love
If you open a café on the Jyoti Nivas College Road in Koramangala, you don’t have to worry about walk-ins much. And Rhea D’Costa has got the basic ingredient of her A Hole Lotta Love Cafe (AHLL), which opened in December 2014, right. She runs it along with her elder sister Lynn, her brother-in-law Nathan Harris and his twin Mathew.
What seems to really work for AHLL is the home-like environment. Sample its setting for instance — cosy corners with book shelves, and a sit-out that’s ideal for an evening cuppa. A lot of the food on the menu are made by Lynn, 32, at home. These are her mum and grand mum’s recipes. “Running a café is not a glamorous job,” says the 25-year-old Rhea, who quit her job as a corporate lawyer in a year to be part of the “family’s passion” for cooking food, eating and feeding it. “There have been days, when we’ve had to serve burgers in sandwich breads, because the entire street ran out of burger buns. But I knew what I was getting into. And that includes bad reviews too. “A customer once wrote online that she got typhoid after eating here. I cried so much. Typhoid is a water-borne disease, how could you be so sure that you caught it from our café?” recounts
Rhea. However, many of their customers are now regulars.
To aspiring café owners: “Don’t quit your job. Instead take leave for four months and go work in a restaurant. Some people discover the ugly side of the business mid-way,” she says.
Get your basics right, whether you are from the hospitality industry or not. Focus on the food, respect your staff, and respect your customers. Treat people the way you would like to be treated they knew where to come. That was my biggest validation,” Mittal says. Some of the more important learnings are intangible. “Get your basics right, whether you are from the hospitality industry or not. Focus on the food, respect your staff, and respect your customers. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. I think over the years I evolved by instinct,” Mittal explains, adding, “And never leave the restaurant on auto mode.”
Advice for beginners:
“I will say only one thing. Don’t do it for the money. Do it if you love, and understand food, and want to make people happy. The money is bonus,” she ends.
When Imli opened in Indiranagar three years ago, they gave the city a place to eat good vegetarian north Indian food that was not doused in oil and spices. Archana Mittal, a partner at the restaurant, says that the idea was never to have something of this size. “I wanted a small and quaint space that would serve good food – something like an art café,” she says, adding, “but when we found this bungalow, we decided to go with a restaurant.” Born out of her love for food — “I eat when I am happy, and I eat when I am sad” — Mittal says food is the one thing that connects people. “It’s comforting,” she adds. It took them a while to put the place together. “My husband (Somil Mittal) is extremely meticulous when it comes to research. While I knew what food to serve, he did all the background work to figure out how to do it,” she says.
And in the three and a half years, lessons have been aplenty – brickbats and accolades alike. “I remember this one time, perhaps a year into our operations, a bunch of kids spent the entire day here on a Saturday. And while they were leaving, they said that if they ever missed their mom,they knew where to come. That was my biggest validation,” Mittal says. Some of the more important learnings are intangible. “Get your basics right, whether you are from the hospitality industry or not. Focus on the food, respect your staff, and respect your customers. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. I think over the years I evolved by instinct,” Mittal explains, adding, “And never leave the restaurant on auto mode.”