Every day, a new restaurant opens somewhere in Mumbai as another one shuts. What’s the big deal? When a man, who at 38, has almost as many restaurants under his belt decides to shut the very first coffee shop he started 14 years ago, it is a big deal. So we corner the ever-smiling Riyaaz Amlani over Belgian beer and Beef Carpaccio at his landmark Bandra eatery Salt Water Cafe to find out what new mojo is he springing on us.
Amlani has several brands under his belt including Smoke House Delhi, Bespoke Cafe, Tasting Room, Stone Water Grill, Salt Water Grill and others, but the Mocha and its later avatar, the Mochamojo (literally translated, it means Mocha magic), are the ones that have genuinely woven a spell over Mumbai. So why shut the one that started it all?
Amlani orders some of his favourite stuff -- Beef Carpaccio, Fried Prawns and a mixed meat salad along with three pints of Hoegaarden(he makes it sound very interesting with a deliberate stress on the ‘hoe’). “Now let’s talk,” he says, once the drinks have arrived.
Softened by the beer and the prawns, we persist nonetheless with our question -- why is he shutting down his first baby, which must be very close to his heart? “You put your heart into everything you do. But once it’s launched, you put your heart into the next one as well. Sometimes my heart does the talking but I am a businessman too and what works best for a business has to get be done,” he says with a smile.
But it’s the restaurant that’s opening where the Mocha stood till last week, that’s got our attention now. Impressario Entertainment’s first Salt Water Cafe located in Bandra, boasts of regular patrons who come from as far as Walkeshwar and Napean Sea Road. So it’s natural, says the man, that he takes his iconic brand down south. We expect the unexpected. Riyaaz is known for launching strikingly different restaurants each time. And that’s saying a lot when you have over 30 of them. What’s new this time then?
“While we will try and create the same Salt Water Cafe experience in Churchgate that people travel all the way to Bandra for, expect some amazing new dishes,” he says. While he won’t let much out of the bag yet, some new dishes, he says, have been specially created for South Mumbai’s discerning palate. (Psst: they include the Champagne Chicken and Smoked Scarmoza Risotto, the Smoked Duck and Carbonara, Baked King Fish, the Salt Water Caesar Prawn, the Roasted Australian Lamb shoulder and a whole array of vegetarian dishes, keeping the large Gujarati population in mind.)
And here’s the best bit about this juggling game. “Mocha is not moving out from the area entirely really. It’s just moving to a location close by,” he says, as we dig into our food.
Still two years shy of 40, the CEO and Managing Director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality has been called everything from an eatopian and a coffee baron. At last count his 35 restaurants and cafes serve over 12,000 people in 10 cities. But why so many brands? Doesn’t that confuse people? “I never really plan. When I open a restaurant, I do not plan a chain beforehand. We play it by the ear. But each time, I want to create a different experience. All my restaurants end up being different.
“We plan to open a number of coffee shops and restaurants in the coming year. My dream is to be known as India’s best and largest player in the standalone hospitality industry,” he says, perhaps not sounding modest for the first time. But the next moment, he lets us into his other side, the Mumbai lad who loves nothing better than a drink and some great food with his close pals. “I want to start a cosy neighbourhood bar one day, one where you will get great food and awesome cocktails but most importantly, a bar with a heart, that will welcome everyone with open arms,” he says.
We are waiting.