What it took to open a restaurant amid the pandemic
What it took to open a restaurant amid the pandemic

Despite the pandemic, the launch of Magna and the entire learning experience has been a boon for me in particular, as a restauranteur. When I got into the restaurant business, the pandemic had just begun. Regardless of that, the owners and the landlords that I dealt with were extremely kind and considerate towards me and my business. They were co-operative enough to lower the rental rates for me, something that I did not expect anyone to do. In fact, I got lucky with my staff too. As was the state of the country and perhaps the world, experienced people lost their jobs due to COVID. I came across a few such who were looking for new opportunities and I got to tap into their resources and work with them for this project. This mutually beneficial development made me realise how grateful I was to the universe that supported me to achieve my dream that Magna is.

Innovation for growth

In these past two years, I had the opportunity to successfully launch four new restaurants. And, because of this uncertainty that the pandemic bought on us, I could play around with newer concepts for my restaurants. This entire journey has been sort of an eye-opener for me in terms of better understanding the market. The market is now different compared to the pre-pandemic era.People’s behaviour and habits have changed. They now prefer to have healthier meals and have become health conscious. The aim to dine out has also moved towards enjoying themselves outside the house and surprisingly they’re willing to spend moreon meals in restaurants as compared to pre-pandemic.

“I’m really happy I got to experience hospitality in this era and I’m looking forward to working into a post-pandemic time. In 2022, we will hopefully grow as an industry because people are tired of staying at home and want to have the chance to finally be out in the world.” Home-deliveries and dine-in have been the norm for a while now. So, I’m trying to offer experiential dining in my restaurants to give people something to look forward to.

Challenges faced

One of the biggest challenges that I faced was in completing the project was of Magna. It was delayed thrice due to the entire covid situation. Twice, the work came to a halt because the labours tested positive, so the TMC came and shut down construction. We had to quarantine our labours for 14 days as per the rules. It was also very difficult for other labours to come during the lockdown and given the situation in some areas. Few had gone back to their hometowns. Acquisition of materials was tough. I had to get them at a greater cost than I would have normally in the market. So, delaying the project was definitely the most troublesome part. It required an increased input of money and a higher risk factor for my labours and for my team too. As a business, it not only affected my finances but also our plans for the launch of Magna like our marketing and promotion plans.

A challenge that I’m currently facing is the frequent change of the operating hours for the restaurants. There is no stability and we have to keep changing our routines and operations as per the protocols. As a restauranteur, it is very difficult to predict or comprehend the behaviour of the customers. We can’t tell the number of people expected to visit each day. Usually, we have a certain projection for the weekdays and weekends, but due to covid it has become unpredictable and it feels like a roller-coaster ride all the time. The additional procedures with sanitisation require us to always be prepared and very alert, as we are not able to tell what to expect. Things like temperature control, double vaccination and other covid protocols add restrictions to a certain extent.

On top of this, if there is any speculation of a lockdown or the rules become stricter with early shut downs of restaurants, there tend to be a huge dip in the market that harms the business. I would say, it has been a great learning experience in terms of understanding how to handle staff, guests and running operations during such times.

Innovation during this time

Considering how a lot of habits, rules and needs changed due to covid, I changed the concept of Magna as well as its name around 3 times. I believe that you can only progress when you change with the changing times. It is important to adapt to your surroundings. Keeping this in mind, we created Magna to be an all-daycafé and bar. Magna is also a great place for brunch that offers exceptional coffees, freaky shakes as well as mocktails. We have incorporated some artisanal cocktails too. We have also changed from a single cuisine restaurant to a multi-cuisine restaurant, that caters to all tastebuds.

Our target market is wide – from 16 year olds to 45 year olds – we want Magna to be a go-to place for everyone. These improvisions have been one of the best possible outcomes of covid, which would not have happened otherwise. As a casual dining spot, Magnais going to be a fresh breath of air for the Thane market. The first of its kind, this is a place where one can relax with their friends, work with colleagues, have a romantic dinner planned with their loved one, or just create unforgettable memories with their family and friends.

The innovation that we have welcomed is creating this new concept of an all-day café that turns into a bar by sunset. We also had to work on accommodating a smaller crowdin one place, an effect of the covid induced fearin the people in general. So, we revised our seating capacity and reduced it by incorporating grand furniture, hence the word Magna which is short for ‘magnificent’. We added grandeur to the place, a refreshing change after the confinement everyone has been in for months during the lockdown. Our larger than life furniture along with experiential diningcomes with seating places like the royal victorias (baggi). There is also a swing area with a huge dome. With respect to the space, this also allows privacy to the guests while dining. We did not want to create a cramped or a close and compact place to have your meal.

In this new post-covid era, I believe that the time for close dancing in a crowded bar is gone. Now it is all about having a good conversation with an old friend and having intimate parties with close friends and family. And Magna Café and Bar is for just that. We provide a unique affair of one-of-a-kind food courses, espresso variants and cocktail recipes in this multi-cuisine restaurant. We have also kept in mind the fact that people have become very particular about where their food comes from. So, we prepare all our ingredients fresh in the kitchen, from sauces and doughs to syrups for cocktails, which is how we have been inventive in our menu. Hence the food at Magna not only looks delicious but is also freshly made. I also believe that the creativity in the food menu will also attract people to try out new things, dishes that they’ve never tried before. It is definitely refreshing to step out into a restaurant and look forward to unique items on the menu.

Through these innovations, we’re trying to refine and uplift the food palette of the Thane market. We have invented items like the cold pressed dark chocolate with orange peels served in a margarita glass. Mocktails with infusions like Better Together, which is a mix of fruits like strawberries, peaches and kiwi served with ginger-ale. Food innovations include a paneer tikka croissant sandwich, freaky shakes, pink tiramisu, pink hummus, almond cutlets and much more.

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