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Updated: Jan 12, 2020, 07:40 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Four restaurant launches in one week. Five more to come. Here's why Powai is beating BKC and Lower Parel, to fast become every hospitality venture's go-to destination

The Lord Of The Drinks branch is smaller than at Lower Parel, but sees an impressive footfall on weekends
The Lord Of The Drinks branch is smaller than at Lower Parel, but sees an impressive footfall on weekends

When Prashant Issar, former co-founder of Mirchi and Mime, decided to set up a branch of the socially responsible restaurant in Powai in March 2015, he was swimming against the tide. Most hospitality and high-end retail establishments in the neighbourhood had shut shop due to rising rents and dwindling revenues. But, Issar, 45, saw potential. "To me, Powai represented a composite ecosystem, with affluent residents, a corporate crowd and a good number of expats," he says. The Powai diner, nestled in the quiet Lake Boulevard Road, was away from the bustling Central Avenue Road—a conscious decision on their part to market it as a destination restaurant. "We wanted customers to make an effort to seek us out," he says. The risk paid off. Not just for Issar but the industry, too.

The Powai outlet of House of Mandarin is the third in the city and receives a mixed crowd across ages;
The Powai outlet of House of Mandarin is the third in the city and receives a mixed crowd across ages 

Five years later, the trickle has turned into a flood. Although Issar has moved out of the partnership and now co-owns Ishaara in Lower Parel, his vision has found takers. Powai has climbed up the hospitality charts to become a coveted hub, along the lines of Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) and Lower Parel. The second week of November saw Social, Lord of the Drinks, Sassy Spoon, and House of Mandarin open their outlets here. All four are housed on the first floor, also known as Binge Central, of Delphi Building in Orchard Avenue. This is where the action is unfolding.

Derby Restobar, that launched its flagship branch in BKC and branched out later to Kamala Mills, is also set to open here.

Pork mapo toba is a hit at House of Mandarin
Pork mapo toba is a hit at House of Mandarin

When we drop in on a Friday night, the venue is crowded with visitors across ages. One of the new entrants on Mumbai's hospitality scene is Kolkata gastropub Episode One. Run by Avik Chatterjee, head of innovations and new formats at Specialty Restaurants Limited, the sprawling 188-seater offers a modern take on gymkhana food at a British club. While the Kolkata outpost has a library, this one has a ballroom for high energy diners, a private chamber for corporate events, a veranda for intimate conversations and a taproom for cocktail lovers. Unlike other chains that have struck their roots elsewhere and eventually spread out, Episode One has chosen to start with the eastern suburb.

"Powai has created its own community and has the right mix of residents and working crowd. It works for a concept like ours," says Chatterjee. The restaurant promises close-to-gymkhana prices without steep membership fees.

Social from restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani’s stable was the first restobar to come on board in Powai
Social from restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani's stable was the first restobar to come on board in Powai

Powai is no longer playing second fiddle, declares Chirag Maru, property consultant and owner of T Realty. His firm has conducted most of the deals for Riyaaz Amlani, Kishore Bajaj, Priyank Sukhija, AD Singh, Zorawar Kalra, Anjan Chatterjee, Rachel Goenka and the Tham brothers. In this case, Maru is singlehandedly responsible for making Binge Central a leisure hotspot. After leasing restaurants in Kamala Mills in 2016 and most of the commercial buildings in BKC, he was on the lookout for the next catchment area. According to him, the rents in Powai are currently at par with BKC and 20 per cent higher than Kala Ghoda. "Eariler, it was half of BKC. The leap has happened in just two years after Canada-based Brookfield Asset Management acquired assets from Hiranandani Group," he says. "Before selecting a potential hub, I study the neighbourhood thoroughly. Safety and connectivity are paramount and Powai ranks high on both counts," he says.

During research, Maru realised that Mumbai's highest revenue-generating Starbucks branch is in Powai. "There were phenomenal figures from Theobroma, too," he says.

Currently, there are more than 7,000 homes in Powai and over 60 realty developers operating in the area, says Maru. According to reports, the area boasts 50 startups, including Holachef, Ola and CredR. "When Lower Parel became a big hub, it was essentially a central business district (CBD). The residential complexes came later. On the other hand, Bandra West was more a residential hub to begin with, and had no CBD to speak of. BKC had neither. Which is why, Powai touches the sweet spot. It's got the right number of people working from inside Hiranandani and a massive residential crowd," says Mayank Bhatt, brand head, Social.

Mayank Bhatt, brand head, Social
Mayank Bhatt, brand head, Social

What's driving this growth is the average Powai resident's spending power. The area is home to BPOs, multinationals and thriving startups, which draw the young crowd. "Unlike the old moneyed families of South Mumbai, people here are uninhibited when it comes to spending what they earn," says Maru. Rachel Goenka, founder and CEO of Chocolate Spoon Company, which owns Sassy Spoon and House of Mandarin, agrees. "On an average, Powai residents go out at least three times a week, if not more." Her study also revealed that those living in Powai like to hang out in Powai. The myopic view does not extend to food, though. "It's a curious market. They are well-travelled, well-networked and willing to experiment with cuisines. We receive guests who insist on meeting the chef because they are keen to educate themselves on what they are eating. For a restaurateur, it is an exciting space." The young, promising market is inspiring others like her to push the envelope. Other than its popular LLIITs and potent cocktails, Powai Social is the first outpost to serve a collection of keg cocktails they have called khatra. These giant-sized, steel-encased kegs serve three litres of blended cocktails and include a full bottle of liquor. They have also introduced pizzas for the first time, here. Sassy Spoon, too, offers a menu that's specific to Powai. "While the Nariman Point outpost is more old-school and vintage, this is younger and upbeat," says Goenka, adding that a DJ booth at the European-style restaurant is a hit with the youth.

Incidentally, Amlani's Social was the first to come on board. Maru likes to call it the "anchor brand". "Once they came on board, it was easy to lease the remaining spaces at Binge Central, because they are one of the most successful brands in the resto-bar segment." After targeting millennials with Social and Lord Of The Drinks, Maru decided to bring in the mature crowd with the other brands.

Chirag Maru
Chirag Maru. Pic/ Anurag Ahire

But, footfalls are not just from the locality. Thanks to Powai's connectivity—you can access it from the Eastern Freeway, Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road, Saki Vihar Road—the area draws in visitors from Chandivli, Mulund, Ghatkopar, Thane and New Mumbai too.

One of the few brands to have witnessed the neighbourhood's evolution is Aromas Café. It was the first eatery to open on the Central Avenue Road in 2009 and introduced breakfast culture to the area. "At the time, Hiranandani pitched it to us as the first integrated township of Mumbai. They had a vision that the area would grow to what it is now," says Sachin Awasthee, CEO, Aromas Café. Every restaurant has a life cycle and Awasthee says they've weathered the storms. "The reason we have survived is because we have a loyal set of repeat customers. An online survey conducted a few years ago voted us as the best meeting place in Powai. A lot of startups founders have told us that their first meeting was at Aromas," he says.

Meanwhile, Maru has had to keep future clients on hold because of space crunch. Five more restaurants are set to open in a neighbouring building, including Bandra's Kofuku and Lower Parel-Churchgate brand Foo. But more may not necessarily be merrier. "Rents are steep. But the profits need to match up to make it [the business] sustainable. If there is an oversupply of restaurants, business will come down and the model of renting won't be feasible," he says.

Food, and its business, is about a fine balance.

Exclusive to Powai

Giant-sized khatra contains three litres of blended cocktails.
Giant-sized khatra contains three litres of blended cocktails. Pics/ Sameer Markande

Social introduced pizza for the first time at their Powai branch
Social introduced pizza for the first time at their Powai branch

Episode One is a modern take on a British club
Episode One is a modern take on a British club

Sassy Spoon has a DJ booth unlike other branches
Sassy Spoon has a DJ booth unlike other branches

The three-bean ravichi  is exclusive to Sassy in Powai
The three-bean ravichi  is exclusive to Sassy in Powai

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