A young entrepreneur and the Managing Director of a fast growing hospitality venture called Billionsmiles Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, Vijay Abhimanyu is set to raise the bar for the way South Indian cuisine is relished in the country. He gives us an insight into his vision.
Neha Malhotra (NM): How did you decide to venture into the food retailing business?
Vijay Abhimanyu (VA): I started this business when I was 19 years old. In India there has been no South Indian restaurant in the up market/fine dining space. We have brilliant north Indian, Italian, Chinese, etc restaurants at a higher end positioning but nothing in the South Indian space. South Indian food so far has been offered in a very humble atmosphere as a tiffin format serving idly, dosa, vada and at a very low price point. Dining out for South Indian food was never experiential but only functional. We saw a possibility to change this perception and package South Indian food into a four course meal just like in any other fine dining restaurant. There was an opportunity to build a national chain of well branded restaurants in this positioning. Having an entrepreneurial spirit and a family of entrepreneurs, gave me the strength to enter the food retailing business. We wanted to start something that was scalable and which we could first grow nationally and then take it over seas, build a brand synonymous with the South Indian cuisine and build something with a large value over time. We chose food as we saw huge potential in this sector as it is a highly disorganised sector today with just eight per cent of the 15 billion dollar food retailing business being organised. In the western countries, about 80 per cent of the industry is organised so the opportunity is huge and we want to ride on that wave.
NM: Do you see it as an advantage to start so young with a business which has such a widespread potential?
VA: Starting off young has an advantage; we don’t have any fixed mind set and are open to learning and adapting to the external environment. We at a young age are very open to new things and adapt very quickly. Our energy levels are different and we have a will to grow at a fast pace, which is a very good thing.
NM: Which all formats come under the umbrella of Billionsmiles?
VA: Billionsmiles today has two brands, South Indies and Bon South.
South Indies is a South Indian vegetarian brand positioned to be the most fashionable south Indian restaurant chain. South Indies has transformed the South Indian vegetarian dining experience from a tiffin format to a 4 course meal. It is the only fine dining South Indian vegetarian restaurant in the country and the first of its kind to serve wine and liquor with South Indian vegetarian food. We created this brand in the south but the plan was always to take it north and west where south Indian cuisine is very popular. We are trying to change the perception amongst people of South Indian vegetarian food to be an Idly, Dosa experience to a 4 course fine dining; The brand is a very contemporary brand and that is brought out in the branding, interiors, crockery, glassware, etc. South Indies is set to launch in Hyderabad and Pune through the franchise route within the next 3-4 months.
Bon South is a first of its kind fine dining South Indian non-vegetarian restaurant chain. Bon South is positioned to serve food from the 4 southern states in a very contemporary setup. Bon South is a fine dining brand and wine and liquor is an integral part of the Bon South experience. The Bon South brand is currently a year old. Bon South plans on launching its outlets in NCR and Mumbai by the end of next financial year.
NM: How do you meet the challenge of providing quality and authenticity across outlets?
VA: This is a challenge as the Indian restaurant industry is currently highly disorganised with just eight per cent organised penetration. As a result there are no systems and processes, benchmarks which have been created. The people who are building something scalable are the ones who are creating these benchmarks. The key to quality standardisation is to build a business based on systems and processes with the right level of dependency on people. It needs innovative thinking. We at Billionsmiles are putting a lot of effort and resources into R&D to standardise our product and build systems by which quality would remain consistent across outlets. Being quality conscious and building a team that is quality conscious will work in your stride.
NM: Customer service is a vital aspect of the dining experience in the Indian culture. Have you taken any special initiatives to ensure a memorable dining experience?
VA: For us the customer who walks in is God. The Indian customer likes to be pampered when he is at a restaurant. Since we are an up-market brand it is even more important for us to go that extra mile to ensure the customer dining at our restaurant goes back floored. To provide best services to our customers we have done various things in this respect, we have hired 5-star quality staff to manage our restaurants and to prepare food. We do train our staff extensively to ensure our service levels are efficient.
Every lady customer that walks out of South Indies gets a small miniature ‘Bharani’ jar which comes with some ginger walnut chutney in a cute box and has a story attached to it. This has been very well received and even if a person at all goes back with a sore experience, we win him back to a large extent with this gesture. And in Bon South we give a small plant as a gesture.
NM: What are the company’s future plans with respect to expansion?
VA: Billionsmiles will have 8-10 outlets for Bon South and South Indies in next two years. The plan is to build these two brands into a 80-100 outle chain in about 8-10 years time. We also intend on launching a new brand under the Billionsmiles portfolio within the next two quarters.