Sometimes all it takes is an idea to draw people into a restaurant – it could be its unusual interiors, an interesting menu, or a unique theme that creates the ‘pull-in’ factor.
The Lure of a Cave
Having a cave-like decor in the Gufha restaurant in Bangalore was part of Ajay Pai’s, Managing Director of Pai Group, quirky idea. He felt that people looking for a new kind of dining experience would be mystified by cave environs and would be tempted to check it out.
Spread across 1,750 sq.ft., the restaurant seats 100 people and serves Peshawar-Afghani cuisine as well as food of the North-Frontier at an average price of Rs 1,100 for two (without liqour). Pai opened the first Gufha restaurant in 2006. Its cave-like interiors are complemented with sounds of birds chirping, and the waiters dressed as rifle wielding shikaris complete the picture. Crowd-pulling ideas such as the bartender juggling bottles, food festivals, and food promotions are a regular feature.
“Maintaining the interiors is one of our biggest expenses,” says Jaya Prakash, the restaurant’s manager. “Retaining staff is another challenge.”
Like other traditional restaurants, Gufha is open from 12:00 pm to 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm. It attracts a sizeable numeber of clientele from the corporate world, who visit the restaurant with their families usually in the evenings.
Growing at 20 percent year-on-year, Gufha is present in every Pai Group hotel. “We are present only in our own hotels, which makes the venture more cost effective,” says Prakash. “Our break-even/return on investment depends on the location, but in most locations we have got a good response within two to three months.” Pai informs that there are plans for opening two more Gufha Restaurant by the year end.
Gold, Silver, Chocolate, Chinese Dosas
Chandan Lokesh, owner of Rajbhog Restaurant situated at Malleswaram, Bangalore, rolled out his first gold leaf dosa on December 14, 2011. Customers were surprisingly eager to try out the dish. After watching a programme on TV about a $1,000 pizza sold in the US, I thought of coming up with an idea of having a gold leaf dosa. But it had to be affordable. The dish was a big hit and got featured on almost all the food channels,” informs Lokesh.
Lokesh takes it upon himself to place the edible 1 milligram 24 carat gold foil on top of the masala dosa, which is cooked in olive oil, before serving it to the customer. The dosa is now ISO-certified and relished for its nutritive value, and finds many takers despite the whopping Rs 1,011 price. Soon after, Lokesh launched a silver foil dosa priced at Rs 511. “Customer reaction to the gold and silver dosas has been been pretty good,” claims Lokesh. “They come here to celebrate special occasions, and select special dishes,” he adds.
The 1,800 sq.ft. all-veg restaurant was set up with an initial investment of Rs 45-50 lakh. Over the years, Lokesh has improvised the menu to include 101 varieties of dosas, many of which are innovatively different and designed to suit different palates such as the chocolate dosa, and the noodle or Chinese dosa. The all-time favourite remains the regular South Indian ‘Mysore masala’ dosa. Other dosa varieties are priced between Rs 40 and 50.
Rajbhog Restaurant will be moving from the highly populated Malleswaram to a more upscale location such as Sadashivnagar. Now the sole proprietor of the new Rajbhog restaurant, Lokesh is keen to serve his old patrons with the same unique dishes, and expects footfalls to increase in the new location. “The new place will be spread across 1,000 sq.ft. with a seating capacity of 30-40 people. I expect to break even within five to six months. Currently, we are growing at a rate of 20 percent every month,” he reveals.
Writer, journalist and photographer Ajay Jain’s love for travelling inspired him to open Kunzum Travel Café. Located in Delhi, the cafe was started with an investment of Rs 50 lakh. It offers a tempting spread of a variety of tea flavours accompanied by delicious cookies. It attracts a lot of bonhomie, with young customers who like to do their own thing, such as beat drums, create their own music, chat, read, make travgel plans, and even make their own coffee if the mood hits them. Interestingly, they can pay what they want.
The café offers free Wi-Fi, reference library of travel books, maps and magazines, collected from Jain’s travel sojourns in places such as Ladakh and Nagaland. When the place fills up, Jain wishes he had more space to offer, but then the cafe’s compactness is also what makes it charming and attarctive for an intimate gathering.
“We do not want to place any barriers or conditions on people who want to spend time here. In fact, we have built a community of like-minded people. Many have been making their travel plans here, some are offering to donate books and magazines, others want to brew their own coffee. We want our audience to take ownership of the place. “Our biggest innovation is that guests pay-what-they-like; and there are no fixed prices,” says Jain.
Kunzum Travel Café attracts all age groups and professionals who love the idea of travelling. Although the café has evolved with better space and a series of intetresting events, promos and workshops, there are several challenges especially with respect to revenue which comes from the customer’s drop box for coffee and tea, and from sales of artwork and events.
Jain expects to break even by two to three years, and would like to reach out to customers from nearby Gurgaon to far off Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Ahmedabad. “The cafe environment in Delhi does not lend itself as a place where one can strike up a conversations with strangers. So why not create a place that does? A place where travellers hang around, share travel stories, plan future trips, and make friends,” is Jain’s objective.