We Need To Be In Trend And Understand What The Market Needs: Aditya Mehta, White Castle Hospitality
In an interview with BW Businessworld, Aditya Mehta, co-founder White Castle Hospitality, Kolkata, talks about his expansion plans, F&B market and trends in the sector
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What made you start White Castle Hospitality?
Originally, it was all about having your own bar. White Castle Hospitality is M-Bar. It was just about M-Bar (own bar). It was not about making a big hospitality company. The original idea was to actually open your own bar which could be different since Calcutta was lacking places at that point of time in the name of bars or night clubs to go out to. This eventually became M-Bar. When we did M-Bar, it was purely about doing something for ourselves & friends. It was completely out of passion. There was no business angle to it. That's when I decided along with my partner to start something. We formed this company named White Castle Hospitality and the first outlet was M-Bar. We didn't want to give our own name to it. We wanted a different name since everything we were trying to do was different. This company was created to run the operations of M-Bar. First thing was to create a company. The name of the outlet was decided after 8 - 10 months of the company's existence. We created the company in October, 2013 and the name of M-Bar was devised in May, 2014 and in November, 2014, M-Bar opened its doors to public.
As Kolkata is an overloaded market with F & B brands, who all you consider as competition?
Firstly, I do not believe that Kolkata is an overloaded market. I think there is still enough dearth of spaces to go to. Certain outlets are getting overloaded and pressurized and there are certain outlets which are not doing well. That is a sign of any growing market. The outlets which are not doing well are not competitive enough. They do not offer that kind of hospitality to their guests. But there is enough scope for many more outlets. It is a demand and supply equation. As and when supply comes in, demand will be created. People feel like going out when there are spaces to go out to. If people have been going to certain places a lot which was overloaded, it is because there are no other places to go to. I strongly believe that you can have 15 to 20 more outlets in the city and all of them will do well but they need to provide that kind of an experience to their guests. There is no competition in this industry as such. You are your own competition. You can only create yourself, grow yourself and ruin yourself because its the same liquor everyone sells. How you carve your niche out in selling that is your factor which no one else can copy. It is your own creativity.
What is your strategy to compete in the market?
As I said, there is no competition in this industry but to stay in line and on the lead or to stay at the top of the leader board in the market that is always busy, one of the important things is to constantly evolve yourself with time. Every 2 - 3 years, we see a change in generation or the kind of people who come across. Four years ago it was something else and four years later, it will be a different breed all together. The expectations of what they do, what they want from going out is very different. When we would go out, the idea was different. When M-Bar came into existence, it was different and today, it is a completely different story. Therefore, we need to be in tune with the times. We need to be in trend and understand what the market needs.
How much have you invested over the year?
Originally, we bootstrapped the company with about 5 crores (White Castle Hospitality). After that, we have not invested again. It is all our earnings which have been re-invested. Today, talking about the investments and the re-investments, we have invested around 10 - 12 crores. Till date, we have not really taken out anything. Whatever earnings we have had, we have just put it back into the company.
What are your expansion plans in any specific region? (What about tier 2 cities)
Two brands would be going out - M-Bar & The Parking Lot. We are working hard on both the brands to go out. The Parking Lot will go to tier 2 cities for sure because as a brand, its fun and quirky. It is a neighborhood bar. It is something which can run in any kind of a city. Having said that, our first target would still be the metropolitan cities (Delhi or Mumbai) primarily because we need more visibility and traction for the brands. M-Bar as a brand has to go to only metropolitan cities because M-Bar is a porsche nightclub. It cannot go to a student crowd city too much. Our first target is Delhi or Mumbai. Considering the tier 2 cities, we are looking at Chandigarh and Indore. These are growing citites. These are for both the brands. If at all M-Bar goes to tier-2 cities, it will be these two.
Is sourcing fresh ingredients on a daily basis a challenge?
Sourcing fresh ingredients on a daily basis is not really a challenge as such primarily because we have designed the menu in a way wherein we have locally and freshly available ingredients. We refrain from putting products in our menu which we know could create sourcing issues. There are certain exotic ingredients which are difficult for us to source which is why we avoid it in our menu. That does limit the creativity of our chefs but having said that, we do get a lot of fresh ingredients on a regular basis.
What is your specialty (as in cuisine)?
Continental Food is our forte. But over the years, with Ozora & The Parking Lot, we have excelled ourselves in Post Modern Indian and Asian Food.
What is your USP to attract more people?
I think we are able to offer experiences and our properties are very well positioned in the kind of experience they offer. We do not do a mix bag property anymore and people are not confused. What we have been able to do is clearly defined like if you go to M-Bar, you expect a certain thing since it is a pure night club. One can never expect it to be running as a restaurant. One knows the kind of music he or she will hear or the people you will get there. One is aware of the ambience that will be witnessed there. So it has helped us create a very steady stream of loyalists for all our outlets. Same goes for Ozora. One knows the kind of music Ozora would be playing and that it is not a party place. One knows that it is a good place to sit, have a meal and enjoy drinks. We have positioned The Parking Lot in a manner that if you go there, you know its a young vibrant place. You can't expect richness and royalty. Its a little cool as a space. Earlier, drinking was a part of one's night out or a celebration which would probably happen once a month maybe which shifted to once a week. Today, considering the young India, drinking is a part of their culture. Having a beer or a wine or a cocktail is as good as having a Thumps Up or a Fresh Lime Soda. Little bit of alcohol content is a part of everyone's daily life. The Parking Lot is positioned accordingly. It makes drinks affordable. It makes your whole experience of going out on a daily basis a lot more easy on the pocket as well as easy on your lifestyle. You do not need to dress up to visit The Parking Lot. You can come anyway, listen to some good music and have some nice food and drinks at reasonable prices.
What is your footfall on weekends?
All our properties combined together, on an average, we see about close to more than 1000 people on weekends. The highest we have witnessed is 2200+ people which was last year Christmas eve.