Take a peek into the world of food business with two of K-town’s most celebrated restaurateurs and two successful startups.
How did you get into the food business?
Vivek: Being part of the hospitality industry for 15 years in San Francisco, US, I flew back home with the vision of encapsulating the culture of American dining in Kathmandu. Hence, the idea of Jimbu Thakali germinated in 2011. But, my first venture turned out to be Capital Grill in Bhatbhateni. The restaurant had to shut down due to the earthquake of 2015.My idea came to life when I started looking for possibilities but I didn’t have to go far. My mother is the very sole reason for the birth of Jimbu since most of the recipes are her contributions. My initial failure became the turning point and I am grateful for the lessons and learnings.
Chandan: Roadhouse started as a family business along with my brother Ranjan. Back then in 1992, after finishing our education, we had free time to contemplate our careers. We used to listen to ‘Roadhouse Blues’ by Jim Morrison and the inspiration struck. We opened our very first outlet in Thamel. Fast forward to 2022, we are not only doing cafes but resorts and hotels in 13 different locations with our new franchise.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: Pack My Lunch was established in 2013 to ease the lunchtime worries of the corporate sector. Due to lack of professional services in such sectors, PML evolved to extend professional food services such as cafeteria management and corporate lunch boxes to banks, schools, hospitals and other private and government organisations on contract basis. Pack My Lunch operates out of a central kitchen with various satellite and off-site locations. We also do event catering and buffet drop-off services. Our food is cooked fresh every day and consists of a variety of menu options to choose from.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: Patisserie Nepal is a business that we started during the first lockdown when the world was coming to a standstill. We know how everyone thought it was counter-intuitive to start a business during such a period. Since we are majorly poultry farmers, we wanted to find a way in which we could increase the consumption of our eggs, and hence we decided to start a bakery. Both of us didn’t want to settle for basic products and we wanted to provide customers with different, exquisite and exotic flavours from around the world.
Threats and challenges in the initial years of your business.
Vivek: Opening a new venture is chaotic. You have to accept the fact that it’s not going to be a smooth sail through the years. From a shortage of raw materials to price escalation in food items, the technical difficulties followed by the country’s political instability are inescapable. We have been dealing with it for years and the fact cannot be denied with the ongoing landscape of rising inflation and tax problems.
Chandan: In the past, only Thamel was a tourist hub for restaurants but today the scenario isn’t the same. Being in the food business for 30 years, it’s been a challenge coming this far, from the country’s political riots and Nepal bandas to blockades, we have had to face it all. Challenges are everywhere but one must be ready to face it, and come up with solutions to whatever it brings to you.
Pack My Lunch: Our biggest challenge has been and will always be deciding what people love eating daily and keeping in mind that everyone has a different taste and making the menu exciting. The food business constantly evolves with trendy new cafes and attention-driving restaurants.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: The biggest challenge during the initial year was whether our business would even survive the pandemic and the lockdown. We were catering to a premium segment, walking into unchartered waters in the middle of a global pandemic with a falling economy says a lot about how much was at stake.
The food business constantly evolves with trendy new cafes and attention-driving restaurants coming up. How do you work through such cutthroat competition?
Vivek: The keyword is ‘consistency’. Food services, business model, price point and more are a few of the elements in maintaining consistency. These elements play a major role in surviving as well. Moreover, adapting to changes and alternating services according to the demands is crucial. After Covid and Dengue outbreak, we immediately reinforced safety protocols and sanitisation for customer safety in restaurants. Moreover, to excel in this platform, food knowledge is the crux to strengthening the life of any restaurant.
Chandan: We face lots of leakages that need to be fixed, not an easy job but respect and commitment to our work have always elevated our values towards the family that we have built. The verse “Going to the Roadhouse we are going to have a good time,’’ from our inspirational song has been the business philosophy. We believe that we are not battling with anyone but we surely maintain a healthy competition. Over the years, Roadhouse has been committed to standards that give the customer good value for money. We believe that when you spend, you should get the feeling that it’s worth it.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: Live to do good but compete as if your product and outcome are all that matter.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: We are cloud-based only with no physical outlets. The pandemic is what led us to decide to stay online. Competition is what we thrive on since it keeps pushing us to stay ahead of the game. Focusing on constant innovation, with an impeccable focus on top-notch ingredients and quality service is how we try to stay relevant.
What makes your heart sing from all the experiences and exploration of owning a food business?
Vivek: The Thakali cuisine that we are serving from Mustang makes me appreciative of my culture. There are thousands of options to pick from, but I have seen people waiting for 45 minutes and another 100 waiting lists of customers to dine in Jimbu. These kinds of experiences are simply reflective of what we are serving in terms of food and hospitality. And it’s a delightful feeling to be motivated and valued for your work.
Chandan: I think it’s become a habit now to innovate and create. Coming up with new ideas on menus, new business ventures and themes, and serving something authentic fuels my dopamine.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: As someone said – “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”, we both being food lovers enjoy every moment of our work life.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: The fact that we are able to provide so many authentic and exquisite flavours to so many people in the comfort of their homes makes us feel like we are doing something good. Also, getting to try new items almost every week is not a bad deal as well.
What’s your secret recipe to staying ahead of the pack?
Vivek: I have a great time being involved in what I do, interacting with people, food and culture. We make sure that our customer’s needs are fulfilled and they feel special every single time We curate an environment of good food, great hospitality, with humility; these are our work ethics. The value of “sorry and I’ll fix this” has to exist too in the working place when sometimes things go wrong.
Chandan: There’s a trust from our customers, an implicit faith. Through food, service and ambiance, we make sure all elements sync perfectly with the theme of every outlet of the Roadhouse. Getting inspired is another thing but to copy the same is something we don’t suggest. Likewise, the evolution of social media has created the idea that highlights ambiance, and good pictures instead of delicious food. So, there are very few people who are passionate about their work and have a visionary agenda. It’s not about the amount of capital you invest in opening a new business with your partners, the actual question arises about the sustainability of the business.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: By selling your USP and providing quality service and maintaining consistency.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: We don’t compromise on quality. Period. Quality to us is non-negotiable. Having said that, quality lapses are something that no business can always escape. But we are always open to taking full accountability and listening to what the customer has to say. Also, we thrive heavily on innovation. There’s always something new being baked here at The Patisserie every week but not everything goes on the menu. We take our time to perfect the recipe and fine-tune it. The whole process is quite rigorous but it’s worth all the hassle.
Almost 90% of food businesses fail within the first three years and there are more than 2,000 businesses in the town, but only a few survive the market. Your comments.
Vivek: The break-even point of restaurants is eight months. In the first two months one can gather an artificial crowd via your network. But after that, patience and consistency are key to sustaining it. You got to realise your weaknesses and strengths.
Knowing your brand is crucial. Co-dependency on the chef for creating recipes, how you treat your employees, a keen eye on the market, your understanding of the things you serve are all important areas.
Chandan: I think ‘failure’ is part of business. While you start a venture, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll gain profit or succeed overnight. Compared to the past, the herd is more qualified, experienced and skilled now. We have so many more innovative ideas and crafts that people are bringing to the table. The only reason for the failure will be dependent on the people, their passion, determination, and knowledge of one’s brand and the market.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: Never give up on your dreams and aspirations, always be genuine and authentic.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: Always be clear about why you are doing this and what is it that sets you apart from the crowd. Taste your food regularly. That’s the only way to keep up with the quality. Provide stellar customer service even at your own cost. Treat your employees like your equals. A good team makes a world of a difference.
Advice to upcoming restaurateurs
Vivek: Have a clear vision about what you want, not to miss out on research, knowledge and your passion to pursue this career. Listen to those who complain because most people will not be upfront about your mistakes but would rather tell others about your weaknesses.
Chandan: One has to know their craft rather than copying someone. And if you are passionately driven towards your goal, success will find you. But I strictly don’t recommend following others’ paths just because they are successful.
Deepika Shrestha & Samiksha Rai: It takes a ton of hard work and time to build a company. Don’t try to cut corners or look for an easy way out.
Shriya Shakya & Jeanus Suwal: You need to have a love for what you are doing and be able to reciprocate that love into the food that you offer. Stay clear from basics (don’t just be another food company) and focus on what kind of innovation you can bring into this already noisy market. Also, staying clear from being basic doesn’t mean getting the basics of the business wrong so it’s always important that your food has to be good before anything else.