To many people, at least in the good old charming South Delhi, the answer to the riddle surrounding where on earth can you find a good, amicable vegetarian restaurant has been reduced to nothing but a simple, reassuring answer: Sattvik! Located in the heart of Delhi's most seasoned entertainment destination, the Select Citywalk, Sattvik serves pure vegetarian food and has embodied a philosophy of comfort tied to the very best in taste for vegan lovers and connoisseurs of good taste.
The Restaurant Times by POSist met up with Nimish Arora, the founder of one of Delhi's most sturdy and dependable names in the myriad offering of vegetarian delights to discover the vision and idea behind the quality restaurant.
Here's an extract from our conversation:
POSist: When did it occur to you that you wanted to dabble in a pure vegetarian restaurant business?
Nimish: Basically, my family and I are pure vegetarians. Right from the beginning, there was a certain paucity of vegetarian restaurants in the fine dining space. Everybody being a vegetarian at home, my parents would hardly ever step out for eating out. Therefore, perpetually, we would end up eating at a Sagar Ratna or a Haldirams, which are both very good by the way but then just how much could you eat at the same place?
So that's when we were struck by the idea that since there was a vacuum in the market for a good vegetarian restaurant, there was definitely a great deal of prospects for us in this ambit.
POSist: So what struck you most about this opportunity?
Nimish: We did some basic research about the Delhi NCR. And we found out that apart from some seasoned, established names like Haldirams and Sagar Ratna, there were hardly any places where you could take your family out for a casual meal. Typically, I am from a family where we regard the beauty and quality in veggies. My grandfather was quite uptight about his eating habits and therefore wouldn't venture out.
It was pretty much a feeling we clung to that whence you go out to eat vegan food, there's always a fear of having your food mixed up in the preparation of nonvegetarian food as well. So that's when the idea that began as a promising thought found weight in the opportunity that lay there in the market.
POSist: So what was the basic preparation that you came up with for establishing Sattvik?
Nimish: To be honest, the promising players in the restaurant space that had already bit the competition weren't too keen on accepting our idea of starting a brand new pure veg restaurant. The common belief for everyone was that restaurants thrive on "butter chicken" and "meat" and that a new idea built on the foundation of the pure-vegetarian offering would soon meet its fate.
Secondly, the other thing we were warned against was Alcohol. We spoke to many established names across Delhi and they told us that alcohol is a big factor behind a restaurant. And that if weren't for serving any, our days would be limited.
POSist: So didn't that put you in a flux? Were you still prepared to go for it?
Nimish: To be honest, only a bit. What we at Sattvik envisaged was a clean, people friendly restaurant where not just the young ones but an entire family would come to soak up some great vegetarian food. We typically laid the foundation of Sattvik as a restaurant where you could bring your families and kids and spent all the time at your disposal to relish a good dining experience.
And we pretty much thought that that is exactly what was missing from the scheme of things of major restaurants with plenty of giveaways in food but seldom that homely, 'take your own time' feeler about it. The other thing which pushed us positively was the sheer limitation that prevailed in the market about vegetarian food. Even today, say Bukhara, the most sought after vegan restaurant, offers only 4 items on its menu that are veg. Namely- Dal Makhni, Tandoori Aloo, Paneer Makhni and Paneer Tikka.
So most of the veg restaurants were thriving majorly on Dal and Paneer, so there was a conscious effort on our part to pick and choose vegetables from other parts of the country and make them part of our choicest offering at Sattvik.
POSist: Could you please elaborate on that a bit?
Nimish: Sure. India is essentially a vegetarian nation. Even if people do eat nonvegan food, most of their staple food is the quintessential food such as dal and vegetables that a family won't do without. And it is here that we thought that if we picked different flavors from the vegan offering of India, would create a very elaborate vegetarian menu for people out there.
So that is where we picked veggies from Maharashtra, Punjab, and other places, thereby not restricting ourselves to just the regular Dal and Sabzi offerings.
POSist: So did this bring about a difference to what you had originally expected?
Nimish: Soon enough, we started to get rave reviews. It was an uplifting feeling, truth be told. For instance, we had a hardcore nonvegetarian lover says that "am a hardcore nonvegetarian. But there was so much on offer in vegetarian space that I just didn't feel the need to opt for nonvegetarian food". And this has been the greatest compliment for us so far.
POSist: What do you feel is the main aim behind which Sattvik is created?
Nimish: Basically, the aim of Sattvik is to give motivation to non-vegetarians to adapt to vegetarian food. Somewhere we are striving hard, even to this day, to give this zeal to non-vegetarians to work against non-vegetarian food, telling them about the ills of animal slaughter and the entire process with which the non-veg. the food they relish is prepared.
To give people ripe and nice tasting options in vegetarian food by combining the wholesome experience of taste that they can savor and the experience of enjoying a quality fine dining experience is the real motive behind vegetarian food.
POSist: Who would you say is your competition?
Nimish: To be fair, there isn't exactly a competition in the form of a brand other than that of the stringent mindset that hinges on non-vegetarian food. At Sattvik, we aren't competing against brands but are challenging the fixed notion of savoring nonveg food whilst there is plenty of a healthy and wholesome offering in the vast range of vegetarian food.
I do not compare myself with other vegetarian restaurants that are basically thriving in the self-help space such as Haldirams and Sagar Ratna's.
POSist: Do you feel you as Sattvik have been able to make a mark in this space?
Nimish: Definitely, I think we have been able to create a niche. If you think about it then you'd discover that the most popular vegetarian family restaurant was the Sagar Ratna in Defence Colony. But there, within 10 minutes, you would feel that there is an underlining rush to quickly eat up and disperse.
For the simple reason to have more turnaround and more footfalls in the restaurants, there would be cramped up seating, which sort of totally defeats the idea of eating at one's leisure.
But at Sattvik, we give you the freedom of choice, taste, and time to eat at your own leisure.
POSist: That said, what would you hail as the stand out feature of your restaurant?
Nimish: For one, it is the variety on our menu. We have purposely not kept the quality of food too spicy. We have also tried to reduce the number of 'fried' items on the menu. So it is a successful combination of the food that you get, it's variety and the theme of the restaurant built on the essential elements of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth.
POSist: What was the initial reaction of people to your indigenous, and if I may say "Sanskritized" concept?
Nimish: People basically don't seem excited to take their kids or the elderly to places that serve alcohol. But out here, in the absence of both, nonvegetarian food and liquor, people found it to be a refreshing change.
Moreover, most places change their themes in a year or two. But for 8 years, Sattvik has been treating people to rich and sprawling taste in food without a change.
POSist: There is so much of advertising that restaurants of today's day and age do. What does Sattvik do in order to stay ahead in the game?
Nimish: So traditional advertising is quite expensive. We live in an era of the word of mouth communication. It is all about perception. We found out soon enough that our novelty were customer reviews. And today, practically speaking there are tons of spaces where you can be highlighted and mothballed into popularity.
In particular, we have found Zomato to be really helpful. Plus a bit of PR also helps in giving us mileage.
POSist: Do you celebrate festivals in India, since yours is a pure vegetarian restaurant rooted in the traditional space?
Nimish: Navaratri for us is a special time. In both, April and October, our special pure veg. Navaratri thali is a sought after delicacy during that period of the year. We have also done a few events in the last couple of years. We did a Maharaja food event, wherein we called a specialty chef from the Rajput Gharana family of Madhya Pradesh.
So while his first point of excellence is nonvegetarian food, he adapted all that style and nuance into veggie delights. The festival went on for a month. People gave rave reviews about the entire thing. In fact, we even had few Rajasthani traditional musical artists who played the 'sarangi' for about a month right in the middle. The restaurant was decorated with traditional Rajasthani colors and it brought about a whole new flavor and exquisiteness to the idea that is Sattvik.
Pure, joyous, mouth watery delight that is Vegetarian food, is what lies at the heart of Sattvik.