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The foody triumvirate

October 04, 2003

Sanjay Chadha, Sameer Puri and M P Singh together run Foodworld Hospitality, which manages four restaurants in Delhi.

Having established their footing firmly in the restaurant managing business, they are now setting up Chinese restaurants in other cities under the Mahjong brand name.

The three former hoteliers now pocket a cool Rs 8 crore annually from their business.

Singh: It all didn't begin with restauranting. I had worked for some time at Le Meridien, New Delhi as restaurant manager, when I teamed up with a colleague Sameer to set up Ranch Gourmet Services.

Ranch was an upmarket catering company set up on the outskirts of Delhi, which catered Italian and Oriental cuisine for parties.

It was set up on an initial investment of Rs 200,000 in 1991 and by 1992 we were rocking at 500 parties a year. It was then that Sameer roped in Sanjay.

Puri: Sanjay and I did our hotel management at the Pusa Institute of Hotel Management in the Capital, and when Ranch was going great guns, I invited him to join us.

Thereafter, the triumvirate was formed and outdoor catering was our primary business, despite a flood of similar operations mushrooming along the Delhi borders.

Realising that the catering business would not be as lucrative as it used to be, we were looking at alternatives, when, one of our regular clients asked whether we would like to manage a restaurant that he wished to start.

So, in 1992, we started the 110-cover Lotus Pond, the first fine-dining Chinese restaurant in the capital.

All our restaurants thereafter have been on a similar management basis, where we operate on the revenue sharing model. We retain 75 per cent of the revenue and the rest goes to the owner of the premises.

Chadha: However restaurant launches were not easy to operate. In fact, the buzz created due to the opening of Lotus Pond, was so strong that patrons of Ranch queued up on the opening, and being a 80 cover eatery, we had to turn away most of who arrived on the scene.

Intentionally, therefore, we maintained somewhat of a low profile with the launch of Bamboo Shoots, when it came up in Sector 18 in Noida, in 1996.

When we set up shop, I remember, we set up a makeshift volleyball court and we and the staff used to play in the desolate surroundings. Today, the place is buzzing with malls, offices and eateries.

Thankfully, Foodworld has stayed ahead of the game in picking out the right spots for restaurants.

Singh: While the more lucrative restaurant business was bringing in about 70 per cent of our revenues, we were aware that setting up catering units in farmhouses, would be coming under a cloud.

And as we expected, by 2000, commercial ventures in farmhouses were declared illegal, and we shut down Ranch in February that year.

However, we had already set up Foodworld Hospitality as a limited company, the year before, and though this meant that the catering business came to a halt, we were unaffected due to the growing restaurant business.

In January 2001, we set up the 125 cover, Rice Bowl and we just opened our fourth venture -- Far East. And this year, we will be going multi-city by opening up restaurants under the brand Mahjong, across seven cities in North India, including Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ludhiana and Lucknow.

Puri: We would be tailoring Mahjong in a more informal set up, pricing it slightly lower than the existing restaurants in Delhi.

Our first area of consolidation would be North India and thereafter we would be moving to other regions. We hope to double the number of franchisee restaurants every year.

We would take over the premises of the restaurateur, charge a one-time franchise fee between Rs 400,000 and Rs 750,000 and thereafter charge seven per cent of the turnover.

Chadha: And from this October, we are getting back to our original catering business by starting Foodworld Express, which will provide F&B solutions to institutions like BPOs.

Bigger catering units like Taj and the Oberoi group have gone in and exploited the potential that the IT enabled service industry has to offer and we do not want to miss out on this, or any other opportunity that the burgeoning food industry has to offer. For us it's all for food -- food for all.

As told to Soumik Sen

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