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Chef Gregory Lobo: Innovating Food Concepts in India

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From being a chef on a cruiseliner in England to having worked with the ideation team of , Dr. Chef , Managing Partner, has ideated almost 24 food concepts till now! Owning a restaurant, the dream of any chef, Lobo is credited with introducing a frozen food concept in Bangalore way back in 1998. He shares his inspiring entrepreneurial journey in his own words.
Inspiration
I have been in the food and beverage industry for around 23 years and have also served as a chef on a cruiseliner in England, travelling to some 70-80 countries. While travelling to different countries at work, I noticed several new food trends and concepts. So, travel was my basic source of inspiration for launching new concepts in the Indian market. I have ideated 24 food concepts so far and it is an ongoing process.
First Chilled Food Concept: Kilo Kurry
I started a food concept way back in 1998 chilled format called Kilo Kurry in Bangalore to supply chilled food products to supermarkets in the city, for e.g. Monday to Sunday. Six frozen food items like Dal Makhni, Paneer Tikka Masala, Chicken Tikka Masala, etc. were prepared inhouse by me and another friend with standardised recipes. There were people for packaging also, so in all there were five people. The food was prepared thrice a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Around 25 kgs production happened for each product. Realising that the concept was apparently much ahead of its time, I closed it in 2000.
From Unilever to Hot Chix Restaurants
In the year 2005, I used to work as a full-time chef for Unilever Food Solutions India in the ideation team for sauces, seasonings, soups, etc. and came up with new concepts and products for KFC, , and Mc Donald’s. I was the one who ideated the multi-grain wrap for Mc Donald’s in 2006. In 2006, I left the full-time employment of Unilever and still continue to work as the consultant chef for them. After quitting Unilever’s full-time employment in October 2006, I started Hot Chix.

 


In 2006, I set up a Kilo Kurry fresh concept which was a hot format and housed a small Hot Chix counter offering fried chicken, burgers, and other fast food options. The chicken pieces were smaller than KFC and five pieces were priced at Rs 70. Kilo Kurry also housed a China Express kiosk serving rice bowls and noodle bowls priced at somewhere around Rs 60 for vegetarian option and Rs 80 for non-vegetarian bowl. It was a complete meal in itself served with gravy. The total area of the restaurant was 2,300 sq.ft housing the three kiosks. Hot Chix kiosk occupied some 100 sq.ft. while the kitchen was spread across 800 sq.ft. China Express and Kilo Kurry were shut down in 2008 and 2010, respectively, because there were some issues with the location and I had to move the restaurant to a new place. It was then that I decided to go ahead only with Hot Chix with my friend Samson Sunderraj. In the next two-three years fried chicken will rule the Indian food and beverage market.

 

 
The Grill House was the next concept launched in 2009 with an initial investment of approximately a crore with two new partners. We rented a building where the first floor housed the Grill House and the ground floor had a takeaway for Kilo Kurry and Hot Chix. The Grill House served continental steaks and sizzlers. Chicken steaks were priced at Rs 180, beef steaks at Rs 210, and Vegetarian steaks at Rs 170. Presently, there are two outlets in Bangalore on MG Road and Indranagar. Now the prices stand at Rs 340 to Rs 380 for a fish steak and Rs 280 to Rs 300 for a chicken steak. The Grill House is a niche and higher-end concept compared to Hot Chix which falls in the affordable segment.
Challenges
When I started my entrepreneurial journey there were no investors available. Chefs are good at cooking but very few succeed as businessmen. The initial investment in Hot Chix was Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh (in 2006) for the Express model and Rs 40 lakh for the Classic format (2010).
Hot Chix Footprint
There are five outlets, two in Manipal and three in Bangalore (two kiosks and one Express format). Out of the five, only one is company owned and rest are franchised. Apart from kiosk there are two more models for Hot Chix, namely, Express and Classic. The Express model is a 10-15 seater format with a kitchen while Classic can accommodate 40 people. For fried chicken, imported Berjaya fryer (Malaysian brand) is used in Hot Chix. The total equipment investment for a kiosk is Rs 3.5 lakh. In the first week of June, a franchisee outlet is schedule to open in Dubai offering the same menu. The kiosk has a staff of 3, Express has a team of 6, and Classic has a staff of 10.
Franchisees
Hot Chix plans to expand through franchisees majorly. The franchisee fee is Rs 1.5 lakh for a kiosk (total investment per kiosk is Rs 8 lakh inclusive of the franchisee fee) , Rs 2.5 lakh for the Express model (total investment Rs 18 lakh inclusive of franchisee fee) , and Rs 5 lakh for the Classic format (total investment of Rs 40 lakh inclusive of franchisee fee). Proper training is imparted to the franchisee staff in the company’s outlet. It takes around 45-60 days for an outlet to become functional. It is a mandate for the staff to work for a minimum of one month in the company outlet before being appointed in the new outlet.
For all three formats, I prefer high footfall areas like high streets, malls, and colleges.
Future Plans
I plan to scale up my restaurant count to 20 by the end of this fiscal. A lot of franchisee interest is coming in from Bangalore. Negotiations are on with a chicken hatchery professional from Kolkata who has shown interest to open 12 outlets. I am looking for master and zonal franchisees. For this fiscal, I am targeting a turnover of approx. Rs 5 crore.
Currently, I am also working on a concept which will have only 10 dishes which can be mixed and matched to serve. It will be an Indian concept with a central kitchen to be launched by this August. Majorly, I am looking at grilled kebabs. With standardised recipe, there will be four flavours. It will have one or two rice items and ulta tawa paratha. Consumers can either have the kebab separately or have it rolled in the tawa paratha, or can be eaten as a combo with rice. I am yet to finalise the name of this new entity.