Over the years, the food sector in India has grown exponentially well, with the introduction of various cuisines such as Chinese, continental, Mexican and many more.
Notably, with much boom in the food industry, various new restaurants have been set up and some of them are offerings unique cuisines with a special recipe that could go consumer gaga over their offerings.
In a conversation with Outlook Business, Pankaj Ahuja, founder of Park Balluchi, shares his vision, thought and inspiration about food sector, including his journey as an entrepreneur.
Here are excerpts:
Can you share the highlights of your journey so far as an entrepreneur?
While I was pursuing Hotel & Food Service Management from Chaffey College, California, United States my father Mr Subhash Ahuja was handling a prestigious venue at ITPO, Pragati Maidan; simultaneously he was also running a restaurant in Deer Park, Hauz Khas Village. He had made quite a name in F&B Catering & Restaurants in that era and almost every large-scale exhibition or event during that time was catered by Park Balluchi Catering.
This sowed the seeds of the hospitality & food service industry in me at an early age and as soon as I passed High School, I went abroad to pursue a career course within the same industry. I started my career by creating my brand of a restaurant in Richmond Hill, New York by the name Royal India Palace. Gradually I went on to acquire another restaurant in the state of Schererville, Indiana by the name Tandoor Cuisine of India. After a successful run, I decided to come back to India entrenched with first-hand experience and knowledge of running fine dining restaurants and banquets.
In a span of a little over 10 years, I have successfully executed 500+ F&B catering contracts with an elaborate list of reputed clients, especially for the government and corporate sector. This has led to the ultimate breakthrough for me in the restaurants' industry and marked the birth of Cafe Park Balluchi, which presently owns Park Balluchi Express - the QSR.
What makes Park Balluchi different from other food outlets operating in the same segment?
Park Balluchi Express comes entrenched with the in-depth knowledge, experience and expertise of running marquee properties or fine dining restaurants like Park Balluchi, Deer Park for nearly two decades. We have also run restaurants of a similar concept in Udyog Vihar - Gurgaon, Sector 29 - Gurgaon, and also Panipat.
Park Balluchi Express brings to the table, the same experience in terms of the taste and quality of food, that has made a name over the years of legacy that Park Bulluchi as a brand has earned. We, as a brand do not rely on masalas procured from other brands or means. It is a heritage that has been passed on for generations now, which requires us to procure and grind our own specialized masalas which contribute towards the heart and soul of our food.
Our expert curators or chefs have indigenously developed flavours by the fusion of traditional techniques of tenderizing together with methods and processes of modern day cooking, for example, the Dohra Kebabs, these are dishes that require years of expertise in order to gain perfection. Such panache wouldn't be found easily and that sets us apart and aloof from the rest.
How do you see growing competition in the food sector considering numerous players that have forayed into this segment?
Of Course, there would be competition and I am expecting good competition from some of the established brands and players in the same segment. I don't fret competition, for it keeps you on your toes, it keeps you motivated to do better and stay ahead of the curve. When you know that your competition or contender is already miles ahead of you and is making sure that the status quo does not change, it becomes your burden to make the paradigm shift towards you. How do you do that? You change the game and the table.
We didn't bring the contemporary dishes of Paneer, Fish, Chicken, Mutton & Lamb to the table. We bring in the dishes that were lost in the history of Indian cuisine. We have brought back the quintessential flavours of undivided India, especially the Balochistan and Multan regions. Our Afghani Kebabs aren't new but the way we cook these scintillating recipes changes the whole dish in terms of aroma, looks and taste.
Who do you see as your biggest competitor at present?
Within the Indian takeaway space, there are very few brands that do what we do. In that sense, it’s hard to pinpoint one's true competition – neither is our menu going to be constant, nor are we defined by one particular cuisine. We regularly train our chefs who have many years of experience and are always updating themselves.
They draw a good amount of inspiration from their respective regions but their techniques are modern and stem from their culinary experiences. That said, there are a handful of brands here that create high-quality food and celebrate local and regional produce along with similar price points; those are competitors we admire.
Can you tell us the growth strategies that you intend to implement for upscaling your business?
We have plans of opening another 4 QSR outlets within a span of the next 6-8 months (hopefully we won't get hit by another COVID-19 wave, ever again). We won't stop at that, we will keep opening outlets every 2-3 months and with this strategy, we are looking to cover most regions of Delhi/NCR.
We are also open to the idea of creating Master Franchisees & Franchise our business, however, we intend to ensure that each outlet that we open in a franchise model, does get food from our base kitchen which would ensure optimised quality and portions everywhere.
And to give you a sneak-peek into our plans, I would say "Delhi is the end of the territory for us, it extends far beyond"
How did you cope up with the pandemic in terms of revenue?
As more and more businesses (in the Indian restaurants' sector) have moved their focus from fine/casual dining to QSR & cloud kitchens (post covid), we have decided to prioritize the business of cloud kitchens everywhere and deliver exact similar dishes with the temperature compliances met, to the comfort of the consumer's home.
Our plan is to ensure that if our client, decides to come over for breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner, we will welcome them with open arms, however, if someone prefers to stay at home, not take the botheration of coming over or is (in some way) concerned about his/her safety amidst a virus outbreak, we will deliver pristine quality food to their homes that they can enjoy with their families without having to worry about the hygiene and sanitization standards of the outlet, they have ordered from.
Our kitchens (including our base kitchen) are being sanitized every hour. It is mandatory for the kitchen staff including the housekeeping and the accounting crew to get checked for Covid-19, every 15 days, i.e., twice a month. Also, wearing masks, head-caps, gloves and even shoe-covers have been made obligatory.
We believe our customers are our supreme priority and we would treat them as if we would treat our family members. When we make their health our priority, they will replicate the trust by ensuring that we never run short of business or revenues.
What is your take on India's food business in terms of scope, competition, innovation and offerings?
We Indians are born foodies. Our taste buds are nurtured right from our childhood when our grandmas & aunts feed us with exemplary food that is cooked straight of their hearts and textbooks of legacy passed on from one generation to another. Our mothers don't just give us food on our tables for sustenance, they give a tantalizing mix of nutrition, flavours, taste, texture & aroma, so we are born judges of food in terms of all these elements.
Hence, if you talk about scope, there's an unending scope for any brand to establish itself, serving exceptional food and conquering a major chunk of market stake.
Competition; well India is predominantly stereotypical. If someone does something special or different, everyone else tends to set aside what they are doing and start following, rather copying that one anomaly. This practice has made us typecast around the world. This needs to end, people must realize that what they are doing is also important and if they improvise, update and do it better, they will soon become masters of their trade. We will never stand as a typecast in the food market and we will never follow what someone else is doing. We will persevere and carve a niche for ourselves.