In an exclusive interview, Harshavardhan Neotia talks about creating a smart dining experience with Uno Chicago Bar and Grill India.
Ambuja Neotia group’s hospitality vertical is bringing the legendary, globally recognized American casual dining chain Uno Chicago Bar and Grill to India; the first outlet being in Gardens Galleria, Sector 38, Noida. Uno Chicago Bar and Grill’s entry in India also coincides with its 75 years of successful operations across the globe.
Ambuja Neotia is one of the most prominent and respected corporate houses headquartered in Kolkata with its forte in real estate, hospitality and healthcare among others under the vision and leadership of Harshavardhan Neotia, the Chairman of the Ambuja Neotia Group. Harshavardhan Neotia is responsible for landmark projects and concepts across Eastern India. The group has been a passionate and committed hospitality player owning and operating eight restaurant brands, boutique hotels and premium clubs with an established track record.
Harshavardhan Neotia speaks to Restaurant India about creating a smart dining experience with Uno.
From real estate to hospitality and healthcare, and now paving a way into food franchise. Could you share your journey till now?
From the very beginning, my family has been living in Kolkata; it’s been 120 years. We moved from Shekhawati, Ramgarh district in Rajasthan, to Kolkata in the late 1800s. My family was in trading business back then. In the mid-80s, we, the Sekhsaria family too which is related to us, together set up Ambuja Cement - a big flagship business of the Group. In 2006, we divested our stake to Holcim. Meanwhile, I had already started a company that dealt into healthcare, hospitality and real estate; it was a kind of a side business. After the Group sold out the cement business, healthcare, hospitality and real estate became my focus since past ten to twelve years.
In the meantime, we had built a resort on the lines of the Ganges, clubs, banquets and restaurants in Kolkata.
Earlier we were centric to Bengal, especially Kolkata. The opportunity to work with Uno came a year back. The concept and product excited us; they have an excellent product. In the meantime, my son, too, flew back to India after completing his education. I took this as an opportunity to work with Uno Chicago Bar and Grill and open its first outlet in Noida.
Ambuja Neotia Hospitality is a West Bengal-based group. And you are setting up the UNO Chicago Bar and Grill in Noida. How would you define your focus area in terms of geography?
When we signed up with Uno Chicago Bar and Grill, the plan was to build Uno brand across India. Therefore, in course of six weeks, we plan to open the Uno outlets in Noida, Kolkata and Bengaluru. We will be opening more Uno outlets in other cities as well. In the next five years, we are hopeful of heading towards most of tier 1 and tier 2 cities.
The Uno’s office is already headquartered in Delhi.
How do you see the food industry in the next few years?
The food industry has been growing very fast in India even when many food businesses are closing down for some reason or other. It could be possible that their products were not accepted by the people or they might have faced other unknown challenges. There are families who seek a space for entertainment and food and, thus, they tend to go out. Among them, there are working people too, who, in order to avoid bigger arrangement for feasts take their guests to the restaurants for lunches or dinners. Going out with friends is also popular among youths. And, therefore, the culture to visit restaurants is rising more.
The Bar and grill concept is gaining popularity in the country. What is your business strategy to stay ahead of the competitors?
Clearly, we believe, our biggest hero has to be the food. Mr Frederick (the vice president of franchise operations for Uno Global) and his entire team has worked really hard to create an outstanding menu. On the other hand, of course, we are looking at creating an amazing experience when someone visits the Uno Chicago Bar and Grill outlet.
It’s not only the food but also the ambience, the drinks and the music that matter. All together we think and we hope that it will be a great fun party place to be. People can always make plans for the party or come in smaller groups or even as couples, they will feel that they are enjoying a party because of the atmosphere and the music.
Our team has very meticulously curated music to be played at Uno as per the atmosphere. It gets peppier later into the night, while soft when we move from noon to evening. Altogether the experience at Uno is expected to be special.
Will you be adding a local twist to the menu?
The menu is very flexible and adaptable and at Uno Chicago Bar and Grill we have a fairly large section for vegetarian cuisines. We have certainly added spices wherever needed, and there are vegetarian items too. So, I would say the local twist has been adapted, yet we have kept the original flavours intact. Uno in itself has a great variety of products.
Will you be introducing the latest restaurant technologies to sustain the rising competition?
We have to be relevant. We are introducing internet music at Uno Chicago Bar and Grill in India. We will be having Facebook live for the events happening at all our restaurants so that people could enjoy together. In the US, there is a table set-up gaming, we will be introducing that as well. In future, we will be setting up a self-audit kiosk.
We believe in making the experience better. We will serve people with fresh and a variety of flavours at Uno. We have a seasonal menu too. We continue trying different things.
What kind of challenges do you see that lies ahead with UNO Chicago Bar and Grill?
How many people walk through our doors!
What are the food trends to look forward to in future?
Healthy food, if possible all organic. People are also weight-conscious. They want tasty foods which aren’t heavy on calorie. We have enough items on our Uno menu for vegetarians and weight watchers as well. More and more people prefer casual dining over fine-dining. They like to be at an informal place where they could hang out with family and friends.