We (Srikanth, a college buddy of mine and I) invested our hard-earned post tax savings in the Restaurant business based on a strong interest in the business and a belief that if others can make a restaurant business work, we are also smart enough to do so. We hired a Restaurant consulting firm and used our brains to come up with an innovative concept - Everyday Healthy Food at Value Prices, and started “Café Aarogya” in Aug 2008. We worked really hard, were highly responsive to customer feedback, made no compromises on food and ingredient quality, invested in marketing (newspaper ads, flyers in newspapers, apartment notices, discount coupons, banners, online food sites, friends & families etc.) and explored every sales channel possible (Office Meals Catering, Individual Meal box Deliveries, Party Catering, independent Kiosk format with ready-to-eat food). We got written about very positively in newspapers (Times of India), Magazines (Femina) and were even interviewed on television (TV9).
After a few months, the writing on the wall was clear to us – we will not make money and will lose our investment and more money if we continue operating. But in our entrepreneurial zeal and refusal to accept failure, we refused to acknowledge this fact and so worked even harder, made changes to the menu, pricing and continued to believe that something would happen and things would work out. We also attempted to find investors to bail us out based on a nicely written and attractive business plan on paper. After about 12 months and having lost enough money, energy and enthusiasm, we decided to end the bleeding and accept the fact that what we had created was like an art movie – “Critically Acclaimed, Commercial Failure”.
Once the decision to shut down was made, we informed our staff about the decision, requested their support and promised an additional notice period pay post shut-down, helped them find other jobs, and attempted to sell the assets and transfer the lease to another restaurant business/entrepreneur (the offers were abysmally low as expected). During all this, some of the key staff and us, kept racking our brains about what else we could do in the space we had, without any additional investment. Out of this desperate situation and sheer survival instinct was born our Biryani business. Since the idea primarily came from Mani (the executive chef at Café Aarogya), the fact that he anyway had an interest to start a Biryani restaurant when he had the money, we chose the name “Mani’s Dum Biryani”. We changed the sign-boards, designed a new menu and opened “Mani’s Dum Biryani” in Oct 2009.
In Jan 2010, we felt as though we had struck gold as we operationally broke even for the first time. Our energy and enthusiasm got a positive boost and we started focusing on trying to make the business profitable. By Jan 2011, we had experimented, refined and made some small investments to spruce up the restaurant. Our efforts finally bore fruit and we soon started making EBITDA to the tune of 10-12% of Net Sales per month on a consistent basis (like I have mentioned in my earlier posts, market norms are in the 15-30% range).
The journey has been painful – but we managed to hang in there and survive. Now we want to make an attempt to grow and build something meaningful and fulfill our dreams. In our minds, even if we end up with just creating a small restaurant business (say 10 restaurants in 10-15 years), we absolutely want to take this journey. Do check us out at www.manis.in.