Why ‘only parathas’ on the menu?
I didn’t want to serve the same stuff that all restaurants were serving – roti, sabzi, gravy, south Indian dishes, etc. Being a hardcore Punjabi, parathas are a staple. No one can do parathas the way we do them. So I came up with 30 basic varieties of parathas. These base items were then mixed with other ingredients and we had more than 900 combinations of parathas! A housewife who makes parathas at home can’t think beyond the usual aloo, methi, mooli, gobi, paneer and cheese. So people came to Only Parathas for unusual, unimaginable parathas. To serve authentic north Indian fare, I source all the spices from Delhi.
There was not much competition and business was good in those days. I started with Rs 35 lakhs, which I recovered in a year and half. But things changed drastically post 2007; there was cut-throat competition and it became a fight for survival.
What other food outlets do you own?
Apart from the one outlet of Only Parathas, last year, I launched Amritsari Tadka – a non-vegetarian restaurant. I wanted to give more variety to my customers. Moreover, since I had a liquor license, a non-vegetarian restaurant made perfect sense. I also opened a lounge bar called Z’non to cater to the younger crowd, and a takeaway joint called Nanak Sai. The total area of all the company owned outlets is 10,500 sqft, and I have 14-15 employees in each outlet.
How do you infuse freshness in the menu?
Three years after the launch of Only Parathas, I added south Indian dishes to the menu. After all, how many days in a month can you eat parathas? When families come out to dine, the children always look for variety. However, parathas still remain our staple and they contribute around 65 to 70 percent of the revenue. We also introduced parathas with two layers of stuffing.(much before the pizza giants did it), and our parathas with baby corn, mushroom and other unusual fillings, keep the interest going.
What’s the sentiment in the food business today?
The main hurdle in the food service business is the government policies and tax structure. It eats into the profits by almost 60 percent. I am looking forward to the new government to bring some semblance of order in this anarchy. Uniform taxation will bring some relief to restaurateurs.
Food inflation is another major challenge. All my restaurants are on Linking Road, which is one of the busiest streets in Mumbai. If I say that business is bad, you can imagine how bad the situation is. Eating out is a luxury that people can avoid in tough times, therefore, the food service business is the first to feel the pinch when economy is in bad shape.
We have only marginally increased our prices with the fear that people will stay away completely. Happy hours and discounts of 15 to 20 percent on dine in and takeaway are some offers to lure customers.
Why did you open only one outlet of Only Parathas?
I did take the concept all over India through franchisees, but with little success. I realised that people don’t handle your brand with the same dedication and care that you have nurtured it with. Franchise partners follow instructions and procedures for the first six months; after that, they start experimenting with the spices and combinations, and the product suffers. They have scant respect for agreements. Right now I have only three franchisees – one each in Rajkot, Raipur and Sangli.
What are your future plans?
On the restaurant front, I am planning to take my brands to the US, UK and Canada. Talks are on and I am looking to finalise things soon. I have also finalised a master franchisee for the northern part of India.
Brands Owned by Anil Singh Arora
- Only Parathas
Cuisine: Indian vegetarian
Outlets: 1 company-owned and 3 franchisees
- l Amritsari Tadka
Cuisine: Indian non-vegetarian
- l Z’non lounge bar
- l Nanak Sai