When everyone was fussing over the Manchurian and the Sichuan, Chef turned restaurateur Moshe Shek brought in Mediterranean cuisine. The 45-year old learned the food game at big names like Langham Hilton Hotel in London, and Richmont in Switzerland before opening his signature Mediterranean restaurant called Moshe’s, in 2004 in Mumbai. Today, the brand operates three different formats: two casual dine, seven cafés, and two QSRs. Private equity firm New Silk Route (NSR) recently bought a majority stake in the company.
What were the initial days like?
We were the first to open a Mediterranean restaurant in the city. For me, it was like home – I had done Mediterranean food for 16 years when I worked in Europe. When I was 20 I had gone to Israel to work in the Kibbutz (the famed community kitchens) for six months (my mother is a Jew). It’s also the food I eat at home. I used flavours that were largely acceptable to Indians, and didn’t deviate too much. I also divided the menu to include 50 percent vegetarian options. Most restaurants at that time ignored the vegetarians, so this worked in my favour. People accepted Mediterranean cuisine wholeheartedly as the food was fresh, the flavours simple, and the ingredients really good. With such a combination, you can’t go wrong. Sourcing was a challenge too. Though many importers were my suppliers, I sourced a lot of local produce as well.
The first outlet is always the most challenging. How was it for you?
I’ll tell you the unbelievable truth about the first outlet. We got the property in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, on lease. The budget was Rs 75-80 lakh; the bank sanctioned me a personal loan of only Rs 5 lakh! I put that money aside as a deposit for the landlord. My standing in the market was quite stable as I had set up Athena and Basilica, and people trusted me with payments. Everyone, right from the architect to the supplier, rallied behind me and took no payments upfront. This helped me set up the outlet, and we broke even within 18 months.
What has been the toughest thing for you?
It was moving away from my key skill areas, which are food, kitchen and bakery. I started spending more time in the office with lawyers, the office team, in operations, etc, and became less and less of a chef. I couldn’t live with that. When you are a chef, a restaurateur, a worker and the boss, you work with a close team that becomes your co-workers and not simply employees. I lost this along the way as we grew bigger. Today, I don’t even know some of the people who work at Moshe’s, which I find odd.
What is the investment required for different formats?
A restaurant that’s about 1,500 sqft would require Rs 1.2 to 1.5 cr, with breakeven in 2-3 years. For a 800-1,000 sqft café it would be Rs 50 to 60 lakh, with breakeven in two years. For a QSR format, the average investment would be Rs 30-35 lakh. In terms of numbers, you can’t do too many restaurants, but you can do a lot more cafes, and with a QSR you can do a lot more than cafes. All these formats will make you money.
You have divested a majority stake in Moshe’s. How will the funds be used?
NSR is a sound organisation that can help us build scale. The process of opening even a single store is very lengthy, and funds can fall short, especially if you want to open multiple stores. The back-end also has to be strengthened. Also, running the organisation was getting tough, and my key skills as a chef were getting wasted doing things that someone more qualified could do better.
We have been putting every single penny that we earned back into the business, and facing the pressure of maintaining standard, innovating, etc. It’s been a hard but good run, and we have grown singlehandedly. Now, with NSR having bought a stake in the business, and a professional CEO to handle operations, I am looking forward to going back to the kitchen.