In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Oscar Balcon of Artusi Ristorante talks about turning his dream into reality.
Oscar Balcon, an investment banker who traveled around the world always had the passion and love for food from the very childhood. Born in Italy, he grew up in a house where everyone loved consuming good food whether it’s at home or dining out. Working across Asia, America, Europe and many other countries, he learnt and experienced many new things. “I used to eat out very often as I was working with a corporate company. Whether it’s about partying to having client meetings, I used to visit many good restaurants in that process,” shares Balcon who got an opportunity to be the part of various food clubs wherever he lived around the world. Read, what he has to say on his food journey:
How did food happen to you?
I always had this thing in my mind of opening a restaurant of my own one day. Even while I was working with the corporate company, I always thought about how to initiate things for establishing my own restaurant. Once you are having a full-time job, things gets very difficult. And when I retired from my corporate job few years back, I thought that this is the time for doing what I have been planning since 25 years. That’s how Artusi Ristorante was born.
Whose decision was it to come to India?
My wife who is Indian was born here but she moved to Canada as a child. So she grew up in Canada without being familiar about Indian market. We were having other businesses other than food in India from my wife side. Before retiring we thought a lot on where to settle down and at the end, we decided to come to India because of the reason that we never lived here. We thought that while we are living here in India as a family; why not open a restaurant over here.
How much time it took you to come up with the restaurant?
The concept took zero time. It was always there what we needed to do exactly from the past 25 years. Concept, food, and dishes were always in our mind which our family used to cook. In terms of re-analyzing it, it took a lot of time. Once we found the GK-2 location here, it took almost a year for us to establish things because many things were different. From the architect to the contractors, it took as an enormous amount of time to get things right so that they can fit into their place. Selection, sourcing of the ingredients was few things which were really time-consuming because we wanted our restaurant to serve quality products. Then, of course, hiring of staffs, training them, practicing and getting all the things right took us a lot of time.
Tell us something about the menu planning.
It is a long menu with many rich cuisines listed within it. For me, it was the easiest task of designing it. The menu could be enormously long as I was having hundreds of idea inside my head. We tried to bring all kinds of Italian food from our region to the menu so that other people can also have a taste of them. Being a part of various food clubs also helped me a lot in preparing the menu. I used to organize dinners with them so I had an idea how things can work. The items that we serve should be in the same way as it would taste in a very good restaurant. That was always the objective and the challenge.
How difficult was it for you to source right ingredients?
It was more of time-consuming rather than a challenge for us. For each ingredient, we were having approximately two suppliers because we always wanted to have a backup over backup just to maintain the quality of our product. It was not very difficult but yes it was time-consuming. And once we were established, then the concern really shifted from sourcing to costing because almost all our ingredients are imported from various places. And since they are imported, they are a little bit expensive. Once all the contacts were established, there were many suppliers who wanted to work with us and ready to import ingredients for us.
What is your USP?
When we came here, we had traveled a lot throughout the world experiencing many international cuisines. General thing that was in our mind was to adapt to the local market. I thought that there would be a niche market for people who wanted an attentive experience just as we have in Italy. So that’s what we did. We came to a conclusion that there is enough market for the food attentive Italian restaurants. Italian culture, chefs, cuisines, décor etc are things we have focused on from the initial phase. From day one, we have done the same and have never changed. In addition to that, we have started providing cuisines which are regional and are very rare to find. We wanted to do something specific to our region because once again it’s a global cuisine now which has a lot to offer along with being my favorite too.
What is the average footfall?
It took a while for things to work out positively for us. We are in the business for four and half years now. By now, this restaurant is very established. There are group of people who are very regular and keep coming again and again. There are evenings when almost 90% of the tables are packed with customers. The restaurant has grown by the word of mouth. It’s a 38 seater restaurant where you can find 50 people in a day.
What is your view in terms of growing food culture in India?
India has a great food culture in my view. It’s not like that it is here from a recent time or so, but it’s present here from a very long time. That’s why the Indian cuisine is so varied and popular around the whole world. I believe the reason behind this is the general growth of prosperity. It’s directly linked to the growth. Middle-class family prefers to go out more as compared to others and dine out with their family and friends. The more you go out, the more you would be experimenting with all kinds of things.
What is the plan going forward?
We have just opened our 2nd outlet in Gurgaon few months ago. I will say that it follows a similar trajectory like it was here in Delhi. The response has been very positive. Our plan is to grow our brand in depth rather than in width. So there is no plan to open a 3rd outlet till now. We are more into creating our brand value rather than anything else for now.