The hospitality industry last year was brutal. “We’ve been in hell,” says Soravar Kalra, founder and director of Massive Restaurants, which includes brands such as Farsi Cafe, Jigs Kalra’s Spice Library and Ba Ba Ya. “There are many closures,” he says. This year, however, may be different, says Kalra, who describes himself as an “eternal believer.” In a phone interview, Kalra talks about why he felt it was the right time to launch his new restaurants and a delivery-only brand called Butter Delivery (in Delhi). “With the vaccine launch, it feels like a light is being turned on,” he says.
Are all the new restaurants you have recently opened – Bot-Toy Switch in Delhi and Swan and +94 Bombay in Mumbai – a sign that you are optimistic about the future of the hospitality industry after COVID?
In this industry, which is one of the most dangerous and turbulent industries in the world and has a high failure rate, you have no choice but to have eternal hope. Looking at the measurements, things seem to be improving. Once the COVID vaccine is rolled out, the fear is reduced. It feels safe for our restaurant staff and guests. They think they can roam freely, as they did in December 2019. In India, we are a tough guy. In the overall plan of things, I think India will move forward quickly. You see a lot of revenge consumption. The vaccine announcement was the biggest motivation to go out.
How is the bo-tai switch different from the bo-tai?
Bo-toy has the perfect atmosphere, al-fresco dining and high energy vibe. The switch has been extended up, but we have made it a little different. This is the place to turn it off. You can eat a great meal and spend time with friends. Then there is a switch from a delicious restaurant to a nightclub after sunset. Switch’s idea is this: it’s like an oasis in central Delhi.
Combining Japanese and Italian food Swan seems like an ambitious and unusual concept.
Japanese and Italian cuisine except poles: one fresh and light and one creamy and full of corps and fat. We wanted to bring a restaurant that focused on simplicity and stuff. Japanese food is both simple and technical, so is the Italian language. We got out of the way to do everything talking. We are more focused on sourcing, at 1500 square feet, the restaurant’s kitchen is the largest in our system. It is a very serious restaurant, wonderful and repetitive food and passionate and precise menu.
In a social media post in October, you wrote that the epidemic gave you the opportunity to reflect and restart the company. In what ways did you do that?
We were able to look inward and find a lot of things we didn’t need. We have incurred many unnecessary expenses. So we’ve come up with a way to make sure every restaurant is profitable. Even a few restaurants that suffer losses are bad for the whole system. Govt shocked us; There is no guarantee of the future. So we have to describe slim and so on. Our company is now making a weekly meal expense report, unlike most who make a monthly report. So an issue can be evaluated and fixed immediately. We allow people to work from home. We have become a flexible workplace. We are going to be very difficult in making rental decisions. We are not going to sign crazy rentals anymore. No more white elephants. We will only be at milestone locations and we will not expand for expansion.
In what ways has COVID-19 transformed the Indian restaurant industry? Should only the brands that were released last year stay here?
Small restaurants are the future. It is better to avoid monstrosities because unforeseen circumstances can greatly affect white elephants. Food costs were flying high in the industry and they will be meticulously monitored. Real estate is the biggest problem, people want to see it. Rents will fall. Menus will be smaller, so there will be less waste. Indians like to see different varieties, but order the same 10 per cent menu. All of these things will sustain the industry.
One great thing is that, due to the COVID, the distributions were actually taken. Even for restaurants like mine, they are dining places. We have now created the only delivery brand called Butter Delhi. There is great scaling, with tremendous potential for growth. We will not only use existing restaurants, but also have distribution based centers. There will be some fallout as there is a lot of clutter in the cloud kitchen system. But (the system) is here to stay.