In an interaction with Restaurant India, Ahsan Shervani of Rodeo Cantina & Bar talks about creating a new mexican wave in the country.
Typically while thinking of Mexico, a few aspects come to mind such as a poncho, mariachi, a big mustache, cactus, etc, these elements are very traditional and have been executed many times. A veteran in food and beverages business, Saeed Shervani's restaurant, Rodeo was synonymous for Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine in the country for almost 23 years. Recently, the group came up with a new restaurant; Rodeo Cantina & Kitchen which brings forth the vibrant streets of Mexico into the restaurant. “We wanted it to be different. When you walk into the restaurant you’ll find art that is original and created inspired from Mexico's rich cultural heritage,” shares Ahsan Shervani who is taking this legacy forward. With references from pop culture, history, wall graffiti, stencils and hand painted type, he wanted to celebrate and bring a younger, contemporary version of Mexico into the restaurant. Excerpts from the interview:
How are you trying to bring a revolution in the Indian food business by creating new concepts and trend?
I wouldn’t say I’m trying to bring a revolution in the Indian food business. There are plenty of well-known and experienced restaurateurs that are leading the way and whom I look up to! My focus has always been to provide good tasty food and a fun and safe environment for my patrons. I’m not a big proponent of adding ‘fireworks’ and ‘dressing up’ food to make it look more visually appealing without really focusing on the food itself. Yes, presentation matters of course, but tasty food tops any day! If you are getting into the restaurant business, specifically for a long-term and to build a brand, then one must focus on the food & beverage first. Everything else is secondary.
Your father is an industry stalwart, what learnings have you adopted from him in terms of the restaurant business?
He’s been phenomenal in so many ways. Like many sons & their respective fathers, I too have always looked up to him and I do consider him as my idol. He is a self-made man and whatever he has done he has done with honesty and integrity. A lot of people outside the F&B industry don’t know how vocal and how supportive he has been for the industry and how he worked hard in the 1990’s for people’s right to eat out free of restrictions. He truly wanted Delhi to be a progressive city- whether it is reduction of licenses required to open a restaurant, allowing music to be played in restaurants, allowing restaurants and bars to be open for 24 hours, etc. I think I have picked up a lot of his teachings with respect to – having good systems in place, focusing on customers first and having trust in your managers.
Why did you majorly focus on the Mexican cuisine? We see places like Sicilia and San Diego’s catching up with the new food revolution?
We had a great base of Mexican cooking knowledge and expertise for 23 years. The city of New Delhi is flooded with a plethora of Oriental & Pan Asian restaurants. If there is a cuisine that hasn’t gotten an opportunity to shine in India (which flourishes in the west), it’s definitely Mexican cuisine. There is definitely a gap in the market for this cuisine and its one that we are hoping to fulfill.
How is your service unique from others in the industry?
Service is all about touch points. Simply having SOPs is not enough in today’s day and age. Quite often, the efficiency of a restaurant begins from the design/ architectural phase. Depending on the layout of the restaurant, service stations and other storage options can be in-built to ensure quick service. At Rodeo we believe that customer service is about communication and giving genuine attention to customers. Guests must feel welcomed, and they must be treated with care and respect. If this is done and they are given a hearty meal, customers will always come back.
How much investment have you put in to come up with this place?
We were lucky because of the Old rodeo, for the transformation process, we had a lot of the heavy duty kitchen equipment in place as well as a functioning HVAC unit. We put up over Cr 1.5 in this project.
We have seen that customers these days look out for new age bars and restaurants. How are you defining the same at your restaurants?
There is a new customer out there today. One that is well traveled, well equipped and knowledgeable in what they want and expect as an F&B experience. Being new-age is all about bringing new ideas and innovation to your restaurant’s menu. At Rodeo, we are continuously improving our menu and introducing new items for people to try. In fact, I often encourage my bartenders to come up with weekly specials for the beverages that we serve.
What is the average footfall at your restaurant?
We’re entertaining 120 people on an average a day.
What is your expansion plans?
At the moment we have funds for this expansion and were looking at Metro cities. I am actively looking for spaces in Gurgaon, Bengaluru, and Mumbai for expansion of the brand. I am also working on a spin-off Mexican brand which will bring Mexican street food, in a taco cart style set up for outdoor catering.