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    Indian restaurant chain heads abroad

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    What began as a small eatery called Fish Only in 1991 has now blossomed into India’s largest chain of restaurants that is present in every city that matters. Now the chain – best known for its Oh! Calcutta and Mainland China restaurants — plans to spread the cheer abroad.

    The man behind the bouquet of 52 restaurants in India, , the newspaper advertisement executive- turned- restaurateur, is set to make a comeback in London, the gourmand’s paradise.

    His next stops will be in Canada and the US (tie-ups are in place already) and – at some point of time in the future – Africa too. In all, a dozen classy eateries are planned to be opened abroad.

    Chatterjee’s first foreign outing a couple of year ago – at Wimbledon in London – didn’t exactly set the Thames on fire, as the franchisee who operated the ran into problems. Now, with those problems behind him, Chatterjee has redone the fine-dine place and will reopen it soon.

    Of course, it will be called Oh! Calcutta – the brand that replaced Fish Only in 1996, gave him big-time success, and has since helped him establish a beachhead in every city he has taken his umbrella company, Speciality Restaurants, to. Oh! Calcutta is present in nine Indian cities.

    He began with Bengali food, a cuisine believed then to be almost impossible to replicate outside the home kitchen. Then followed Mainland China in 1994, now present in five cities.

    In recent years, Sepciality Restaurants has opened other brands – Haka (launched in 2007 in Kolkata); Sigree (2007, Kolkata and Delhi); Flame & Grill (2007, Kolkata); Sweet Bengal, Machaan (2008, Mumbai and Kolkata); Mostly Kebabs, Just Biriyani (a dozen food courts around the country) and the latest, Shack (2009, Mumbai).

    On his table are cuisines as varied as Bengali, Frontier (including Mughlai) Chinese, Western, and plenty more in between. Soon to be added are South Indian, Mediterranean and Italian.

    For all that he needs money, which, for him, has never really been a problem. Last year, he got Rs 90 crore from SAIF Partners, a private equity funding company, handing it 20 per cent of the unlisted Speciality Restaurants equity. He is now in talks with SAIF as also the for more funds and sees no hitch in getting it. “Both SAIF Partners and SBI know our track record,” says Chatterjee. “There is no reason why they won’t stand by us” even in these difficult times.

    All one has to do, says he, is constantly innovate and work out models according to the need of the hour. He is confident of taking his company’s revenue from Rs 200 crore now to Rs 300 crore in a year.

    He actually needs about Rs 150 crore in new investment over the next one- and- a- half years. Of this, Rs 100 crore may be spent on inorganic growth and the rest on organic expansion that will include an outdoor catering service with full backend facilities.

    He is banking heavily on franchises. The dozen new restaurants abroad will be franchised out “because this is not the best of time to spend money overseas.” In addition, he will open 22 more restaurants in India, at least a dozen of them will be franchises.

    In the franchise framework, his company will provide the staff, brand and technology; the investment will come from the franchisee.
    Speciality Restaurants, which recently catered for the dinner that prime minister hosted for Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, estimates the outdoor catering business in the country to be worth Rs 6,000 crore a year.

    To tap this market, the company has set up a Rs 15 crore comprehensive back-end facility at Sankhrail in Howrah. Similar facilities with base kitchens are planned elsewhere in the country.

    Source: Financial Chronicle