What's on Bandra's menu?

Suburban foodies had only begun to appreciate the authentic Goan food in a cool, beach shack-like ambiance at Bandra’s Café Goa and poof! It was gone. Despite rave reviews, crowds throughout the week and even a recommendation on CNN Travel — the restaurant, which opened in 2009, had to down its shutters by 2011. As has increasingly become the norm than the exception, two years seem to be the average life span of the archetypal Bandra restaurant.

Illustration/Amit Bandre.

Take, The Tasty Tangles, for example. SingKong replaced it in March this year; Indigo Deli replaced Da Vinci’s, last year, and even world-famous baked goods chain Cinnabon didn’t have a sweet experience here. Kishore DF who has seen success with Seijo and the Soul Dish, Lemon Grass and The Big Nasty yet whose WTF! has now been reborn as Loca Loca, explains what he believes, lies at the root of the problem: “You could have a bicycle factory with a turnover of┬áRs 500 crores but would get more recognition as the owner of a corner fast-food eatery and almost ninety per cent of people who open restaurants now are hoping to be touched by this glamour. They have zero knowledge of the business.”

Kishore also points out that since everyone frequents restaurants, people erroneously believe they know how they’re run. “They misread the mechanics of the business. Every new entrant believes they can pull a rabbit out of a hat so every month a new place opens and shuts down promptly. With this comes another problem — Landlords are thrilled because there’s no end to the number of takers for the property and so rents remain as high as ever.”

Open and shut case
A passion to serve great food, rather than glamour, was the allure for Theron Carmine De Sousa, whose grandmother’s recipes were Cafe Goa’s big attraction, however, Theron and his partner soon discovered they had no idea what they were taking on. “I work in advertising and my partner had his day job, too. We could manage running a restaurant, but we couldn’t manage the cops, the BMC, the Excise Department etc. Frankly, all of that just killed it for me.”

Ramesh Dhabolkar of Lager Bay (it’s been around for 20 months now) believes that the glut is the bane of business. “Whenever a new place opens — and these days, there’s a new place every 100 metres — owners introduce incredible offers, which, given the rising cost of alcohol, are neither viable nor sustainable. Customers are drawn, thereby compelling other places in the vicinity to follow suit.”

The demands of powerful resident lobbies and Bandra ALM (Advanced Locality Management) groups complicates the business model further. Prashant Chadha of Three Wise Men, which has been thriving since it opened a year and a half ago — just across a police station — believes that the trick is to comply with regulations. He adds, “We have many regulars, because ours isn’t an intimidating place but a neighbourhood bar where servers recognise you and know your drink. Besides, we keep our alcohol prices relatively low, and make sure the food is good.”

Chadha also credits their Retro playlist and crowd-pulling Monday Karaoke nights for their success. Rajesh Sharma, partner at Elbo Room, another Bandra spot that plays Retro music, echoes Chadha’s belief: “Competitive pricing and innovation are the key to survival. We want people to come by every day of the week and so we’re priced accordingly. We’re also planning to promote a lunch┬ámenu now.”

Factor in the customer
If you’re thinking Retro music means an older clientele, and that these spaces would do well to widen the net, Kishore DF’s revelation would come as a surprise. The restaurateur stresses that clientele isn’t demarcated by age anymore: “No matter what sort of place you run, you do not cater to a specific age group. You have to factor in the clientele’s preferences that would include customers across age brackets.” He adds that it vital to be clear about one’s target customer, and to chisel that model accordingly.

While Chadha believes most new places veer curious customers away temporarily, Kishore DF adds, “There’s also a shift in the way customers behave these days — they get bored easily.” Cafe Goa’s Theron knows his customers weren’t bored though. He hopes to find another partner and resume business after the upcoming parliamentary elections. “Seventy per cent of the restaurant business has nothing to do with food or service,” he says, “…and though we weren’t successful restaurateurs, we were successful food guys.”

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