"Customers are looking for experience than just good food"

Pankaj Gupta has been a passionate cook and he always dreamt of serving quality food in a set up of his own and was always fascinated to make his journey into the food & beverage Industry. He and his friend Abhir graduated together and later met most unexpectedly on a trek to Vaishnodevi temple wherein they decided to travel together to The Golden Temple. While in Amritsar, they feasted on the local cuisine at almost all eateries and dhabas: Amritsar (as is well documented) is famous for being the cradle of Punjabi cuisine. It was during this trip that they realized that someday they would wish to bring this Amritsari delicacy to Mumbai.

Pankaj was just a couple of months away from completing his Masters when he rang Abhir and asked him to put his papers where he was employed with an MNC and insisted that let’s go back to Amritsar to study more about the food and in a matter of a few months they actually had their first outlet in the form of Oye Kake.

What was the inspiration?

I had realised back in 2010 that there was no authentic Punjabi food being served in the city and that most of the Punjabi Restaurants were actually run by South Indians, serving a fusion version of Punjabi Food. Restaurants were serving heavily loaded gravies in the name of Punjabi/ Amritsari Food. On our trip to Amritsar we realised that there are no places in Mumbai which do Stuffed Kulchas and what Mumbaikars were actually being served in the name of Kulchas was Naan with black sesame seeds. So this was the seed of our concept which focused more on doing assortments of Stuffed Kulchas and Parathas in the most traditional way as is done in Amritsar. In order to ensure authenticity of the breads our Ustad Salakhan Singh ( Chef from Amritsar) insisted that we knead our dough in water sourced from Amritsar. We also chose to have an extensive menu as compared to other restaurants as Mumbaikars look forward to variety in a restaurant. This was the first milestone in our journey and in the mid of 2011 we gave Mumbai its first Oye Kake outlet in the most buzzing corporate hub of Fort.

How much money have you invested to come up with the brand?

Since, it was our first outlet and with almost no background in the hospitality industry we tried to control the capital as much as we could however we still ended up investing Rs 40 lakhs which was totally self funded.

Oye Kake is a Punjabi restaurant known for its kulchas prepared with water from Punjab. How easy/ difficult it is to source the water? What was the idea?

When we hired our local Chef from Amritsar he strongly insisted that we source our water from Amritsar to knead the dough as it is the water that makes the Kulchas and the Parathas stand-out and retain their authenticity. It did look like a logistical challenge in the start however I soon realised that my family has been in the business of trading of food grains that are sourced through carriage trucks from various cities in Punjab. We had an arrangement with the Carriage companies to carry 25 litres of water (it’s only used for the Kulchas & Parathas) twice a week in any of their Mumbai bound Trucks. The water is well sealed and travelled in disposable plastic cans.

Talk to us about Café Haqq Se.

Today, Café Haqq Se is a rare offering in the hospitality industry with its unmatchable modern approach to Indian cooking. It was opened with the intention of celebrating the pride of being who we are not just as Indians, but as global citizens and this sense of pride and heartfelt patriotism is expressed through its food, décor and music offering. While the restaurant has a progressive take on Indian cuisine and cross-cuisine cooking techniques have been adapted to bring out the best, the core values and authentic nuances of the traditional dishes have been conserved. Café Haqq Se opened in Kamala Mills , Mumbai in November 2015.

How do you select locations for each restaurant given that both brands cater to different customers?

Oye Kake was initially opened in Fort to serve the corporate crowd. Later, as the restaurant’s popularity grew, families starting frequenting it and there grew a need for us to reach out to our patrons living in the central part of the city i.e. Lower Parel. That was when we decided to open another Oye Kake in Lower Parel. We are soon opening outlets in Pune and Nashik as these cities have been the most upcoming and hence desirable places for restaurants.

We do consider several factors before finalising a property like, behavioural perception of the crowd, demographics of the area, upcoming F&B zones within the city, its proximity to Corporate Hubs, Parking Space, other restaurants in the vicinity, cost per square feet etc. Out of the existing properties we have, venturing into Kamala mills was our best bet as it has completely transformed into the most buzzing F&B hub of the Country. It’s good to be in the industry, present with everyone.

What is the average footfall at each of the outlets? How is the response so far?

We cater to at least 250 guests at each of our outlets every day. Today restaurants are finding it immensely difficult to have customer loyalty unlike the era of 90's and mid 2000 where customers displayed loyalty towards their favourite places. This is mainly because of the growing competition. However, we are fortunate enough to have our customer’s affection towards our brands; I can say this because we have a lot of regulars frequenting the place at least 3-4 times in a month and in some outlets even 7-8 times. So, the response has been incredible towards all the outlets up till now and we surely know the mantra of sustaining it.

Since, you are catering to both modern and traditional customers. What is your view on the change of their eating habit?

I think that people are craving for authentic and good food. However, with growing incomes people have a much better spending capacity now as compared to the last decade which also means the expectations are at the highest, they are looking for an experience more than just having good food. I also see their palates being colonised by a lot of pan Asian concepts happening around the metro cities. They are much more open than ever to experiment new concepts. I take it as a positive development of the market; this is the best time for restaurants to venture into their desired target market.

How are you marketing your brand right to the customers?

Oye Kake’s biggest marketing strategy has been the fact that ‘we source water from Punjab to prepare authentic Amritsari kulchas.’ That continues to work wonders for us. As for Café Haqq Se, we’re serving progressive Indian food by Chef Milan Gupta; our interiors & music offering (live sufi nights) make us stand out too. As a brand we have always resorted to word of mouth publicity and it has worked well up till now. We have been doing a lot of festivals and special day menus which give a chance to boast about what our chefs can do and also give our customers reasons to frequent us. It is very important to stay in touch with your customers and look at expanding your customer base and we achieve this by conducting workshops for our guests, setting up stalls in various food festival around the city etc. Our most preferred mode of communication has been Social Media as it instantly activates brand recall. We have an In house marketing and social media team that looks after all our outlets.

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