An interview with Aji Nair, Vice President, F & B Division, Mirah Hospitality
Speaking to Restaurant India, Aji Nair says when it comes to vegetarian food everyone looks at Rajhdhani.
Kindly tell us about the core values of Khandani Rajdhani?
We believe in the trust of the people and it is trusted by millions across the years. So it has got a legacy all through these years from a child to a grandfather, everybody looks at Rajdhani when it comes to vegetarian food. From a brand custodian’s point of view, what we are trying to do is to provide unlimited happiness. Whether it is food, whether it is service and in whatever we do. In the service industry, if something goes wrong we admit and try to improve. We try to understand what people need. Probably there are two things which set us apart from other restaurants. One, we have a dedicated guest-relation team, which probably in India almost nobody does. We have a dedicated team of 8-9 people calling our guest to understand how they felt their experience last day. We practice this exercise across the country. Secondly, at all Rajdhani’s we have kept a system from the beginning is ‘Rasoi mein aapka swagth hai’ (Welcome to our kitchen). Normally in other restaurants they write ‘No admission without permission’. So these two things probably set us apart from others.
Additionally, in the kitchen, I have kept a book for kitchen staff to write their names with the food name they’ve prepared for the day. So that our guest can see and appreciate our production team for a particular dish/sib dish they have prepared. The production team feels appreciated and since we have a pan India presence, there are various check points too for them like maintaining hygiene, behave nicely, keep things in order etc.
Tell us something about the expansion plan of Khandani Rajdhani, the flagship brand of your restaurant?
Currently we are planning almost ten units, out of which four are already operational, six more to start. In 2014, we have plan to launch another nine Rajdhani’s and Rasovara and three more. Also, two international operations will be started one in Dubai and another in Singapore.
What are the reasons to attribute the growth of Khandani Rajdhani from having 3 outlets to 37 outlets- is it the team effort or the brand attached to it?
It is both. Basically, the team made the brand and the brand made the team. Initially for one or two units, a big team was not required, but they tried to make the brand better. When the brand became better, they wanted a bigger team and a larger team came in place. Unlike a multi-cuisine or an international cuisine restaurant, ours is very different and very traditionally made. We keep traditionally inclined man power as its great challenge to run a ‘thali’ restaurant. That’s the reason you do not see many chains like us because others can have a few restaurants but they cannot take it further. Initially our team was ready to take those challenges and it worked together for us. Then the public appreciation for food and media coverage, other people acknowledging with certificates, awards and everything made it a success.
What is the rationale behind the brand foraying into the international market?
Traditional Indian food is not available internationally and there is a huge demand for this kind of product. Since December last year till February this year, our business from NRI’s accounts grew from 25 percent to 30 percent.
What are the legalities you went through when taking your business abroad?
A lot! Registering brand in foreign lands takes a lot along with finding partners. You need a right local partner to be associated with, especially in places such as UAE. A lot of difficulties are associated with attaining visas as various restrictions and rules are there. We took Indian staff for our outlet in Oman. What number of visas I get allows me to set up internationally. That’s the reason why in England and USA I wanted to start, but I cannot open my restaurant with two people only. There are many brands who have started by sending a cook with the brand name. We cannot do it because our ‘thali’ gets prepared by seven people inside. One person to prepare the farsan, one person to prepare the main vegetable, for sweets there is another person. We needed Indian, Rajasthani people making these dishes which is little difficult in countries like England. You just can’t go and work there. The country will look at your educational background and a lot of other things. My boys are from the villages and they know only cooking, they don’t know anything else. They will give you the best of cooking. If you ask them business or an MBA question, they might not be in a position to answer.
What are the challenges faced? Who all are target customers in foreign nation?
Not only NRI’s but there are lot of expats who love Indian food. They explore and want to understand what is Indian culture and cuisine. And being traditionally prepared, they love our ‘thali’ much also because of the fact that it is not very spicy. With everything put together worked well for us. As far as our target group, in every city we have a different TG including corporate and business class people.