Increasing trend towards eating out and people willing to try different cuisines, has led to the inception and successful growth of Little Italy. Catering to the need for authentic Italian tastes, Raj Mehta, CMD, Little Italy, shares the company’s future plans via franchising.
Abha Garyali (AG): Share with us the inception, growth, and success mantra of ‘Little Italy’.
Raj Mehta (RM): We started our journey from Pune as La Pizzeria at a time when very few people in India knew the taste and authenticity of the Italain cuisine. La Pizzeria was more like a traditional pizza house at the beginning with a limited offering of Pastas and other items. As the popularity and demand increased we slowly started adding up other items, like pastas, soups and salads along with our existing menu. La Pizzeria became a huge hit with locals and foreigners alike. In 1995, in a rather daring move the company launched its outlet in Mumbai. It was perhaps at this time the name ‘Little Italy’ evolved, as the aim became to offer a full range of Italian cuisines to our customers. During the years 1995-2000, Little Italy became synonymous with world class Italian Cuisine.
AG: What was the motivation behind starting Little Italy-an Italian restaurant? When did you start franchising?
RM: When we started La Pizzeria way back in 1989, we felt there was a genuine need for an Italian restaurant in the city of Pune. Because of the Oshoites the city saw an ever increase number of foreigners each year, so when I was approached by an Italian friend for opening up a Pizzeria in the city I could not refuse. In the year 2000, we opened our first franchise outlet and since then there has been no looking back for the brand.
AG: What strategies did you adopt for handling competition in the F& B sector?
RM: We stuck to the basics. We offer authentic food, spices, purity, freshness and great value for money for the customers. We believe the simple things are the most difficult ones to do.
AG: The company has recently announced that it will be expanding both by company owned and franchise outlets. What will be the ratio like?
RM: We would look at a mix of 50:50. Our new franchisee model presents the franchisee an opportunity to be a part of the brand but does not involve him into the day to day hassles of managing the business. We manage the operations for him. It is an interesting model, we have lot of people showing interest from various part of the country and also from outside the country.
AG: What is the USP of Little Italy?
RM: The main USP is our unflinching quality and authenticity of Italian food at value for money.
AG: What are the qualities and the criterion for the selection of prospective franchisees? How much investment is required on their part?
RM: We prefer franchisees that have a genuine interest in F&B business, come from a good financial background and have a previous track record of franchising.
The investment can range from Rs one crore to 1.5 crore.
AG: How many franchisees do you presently have in India and in which cities?
RM: At present we have around 23 franchisee managed restaurants around the country. Now, guests can enjoy several of our Italian delicacies in more than 26 outlets across 17 major cities in India.
AG: What are your future plans in terms of expansion through franchising?
RM: We are looking forward to open around 15-20 more restaurants over next 24 months via franchise route.
AG: How do you support and train your franchisees?
RM: We have a centralised support team which supports franchisee into the various areas of operations and management of the business. Such as Marketing, PR, Human Resources, Training, Operations. We also have people from the corporate office who visit the restaurants and carry out auditing in various F&B related matters. The process of learning and development is a continuous process.
AG: What are the challenges that can be faced by a franchisee in this business? How can they overcome these challenges?
RM: The franchisees can face problems in managing important cost parameters without compromising on the overall quality, handling the manpower and dealing with their problems and issues. He can overcome those by remaining committed to business, customers and employees. Franchisees should never look for unnecessary shortcuts and compromises which will jeopardise the business in the longer run.