Thursday, March 27, 2014

Made in Chennai - Mahadevan M.

Passionate food entrepreneur and Chairman of Oriental Cuisines Pvt Ltd owning some of Chennai's best loved food service brands like Cascade, Hot Breads, Zara, The French Loaf, Ente Keralam and Benjarong.
How do you relate to the city?
I'm a Chennai boy! I came to this city with nothing, but the people adopted me here. The city and I have grown together and complemented each other.

What was the turning point of your career as a restaurateur? 
The launch of Cascade. We created a sophisticated Pan-Asian restaurant with interiors designed by Parmeshwar Godrej that was different from the Chinese restaurants in the city. We discovered that the city was willing to pay more, provided there was good value. After the success of Cascade, my investors had the confidence that I could deliver.
What were some of the glitches along the way? 
When we eventually launched in Delhi, people couldn't believe that someone from an 'idli-dosa-sambar' culture could create croissants! But we chose to launch first in Chennai and the South before launching in Delhi. If we had first launched Hot Breads in Delhi, our exposure would have been bigger and our growth, quicker.

What's your typical schedule like?
That depends on which city I am in! A typical day begins at 9.30 a.m. As an NRI, I spend 6 months of the year in India and the rest, abroad. When I am abroad, I know Chennai is in good hands. When I am here, I have to talk to my people in the US, so a working day could end well after 2 a.m.

To what/whom do you owe the success of your company?
The team. While the location and the food are important, our biggest investment is in people. They have a sense of belonging with us. Our US chef went on to open 6-7 units himself!

What are your plans for expansion in the coming year?
In Chennai, we will have two brand new theme restaurants this year. We hope to increase the number of outlets of The French Loaf to 100. Internationally. we're swimming cross-current in Dubai - the focus is on survival rather than growth. Our boys were recently refused Canadian visas for our Toronto operations, so by March I hope to take a decision on what to do about it. We now have 20 people in the US and that market looks very promising. We're also taking our operations to Zambia and Tanzania.

What should wannabe restaurateurs bear in mind?
There is money to be made in this field provided you have the commitment and self-belief. Know what you do and do what you know. And you have to be willing to put in those long hours.

An edited version of this interview was published in Taxi Magazine in 2011.

No comments: