For 28-year old Hitesh Keswani, who owns a chain of six restaurants of various formats, success lies in finding the right locations, keeping costs low, and maintaining a consistently high quality of food. It‘s also about interacting with guests.
Food was always on my mind,” says the young entrepreneur. “I have been very fascinated with the hospitality industry ever since I was a teenager. I worked as a manager with popular brands like Mocha and Hawaiin Shack in Mumbai before launching my first outlet called Silver Beach Cafe in Juhu (Mumbai) in 2010.”
Keswani currently owns four brands: Silver Beach Cafe serves European cuisine; Nom Nom offers pan Asian cuisinies; Jantar Mantar is a QSR format; and Copa, a bar. The journey, he says, “has been very exciting.” His experience in managing local foodservice spaces came in handy when he started Silver Beach Cafe. “When you have an idea of the work that the waiter, cashier and even the valet does, you acquire a 360 degree view of the business, which is anything but glamourous, despite which, he admits his passion for the food business: “The food journey has been satisfying but my stomach isn’t full yet. I have a large appetite, and want to give this country a vast range of dining and drinking options.”
Keswani made an initial investment of Rs 85,00,000 in Silver Beach Cafe from his personal savings. Though the response in the first six months was quite dismal, he did not resort to marketing or advertising, rather, he decided to be subtle and rely on word-of-mouth publicity. Fortunately, business picked up and he broke even in the 17th month of its opening.
Admits Keswani, “There are many challenges in this business. It starts with finding the right location in a city that hardly has any space. At present, we are in Mumbai and Delhi, where fortunately, we have found the right locations. We prefer residential areas, but convincing the residents that a restaurant in their neighbourhood would not disturb their peace, is tough. While Mumbai prefers niche, standalone restaurants or cafes, Delhi boasts a 5-star culture, and its people are very particular about food. It’s a new market for us, but the response has been positive. We want to take all the feedback constructively and make Nom Nom an anthem for people who crave Asian food in the NCR region.”
He lists finding trained staff (and having one’s staff lured by competitors) and getting the requisite licenses as other challenges that every entrepreneur has to deal with.
So what is the secret to running a successful restaurant chain across various formats? According to Keswani, being present at the outlets makes a huge difference.
He informs that 70 to 75 percent of revenue comes from food and the rest from alcoholic beverages. But at the Copa bar, alcohol brings in 75 percent of the revenue, which makes the outlet the most profitable in his portfolio.
Keswani has big plans for expanding his brands. He has shortlisted a couple of properties in Dubai for Nom Nom and Silver Beach Café, which will open in 2015, and is also looking at London and Singapore. Nearer home, he plans to expand in Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad. “For Jantar Mantar, which is a QSR format, we are looking at malls in Mumbai. A third Nom Nom will open in Mumbai, and a second in Delhi, preferably in the upscale Khan Market or Greater Kailash.” He informs that depending on the size of a project, investment could be to the tune of Rs 1.5 cr for a 1,500 to 2,000 sqft space, and break even could happen between 18 to 24 months.