Aakash Sethi had grown up in a food-obsessed family which only bolstered his love for food. Having previously worked with Ernst & Young and Deutsche Bank, Aakash completed his MBA and joined the banking sector. He wanted to mix his strong business acumen with his passion for food and make that his everyday job.
Soon he realized that his partner Neha Sethi’s cookies had the potential to become huge. Sweetish House Mafia is a cookie specialty cafe where chocoholics can feast on savory chocolate-dipped cookies and shakes! It has almost been 6 years since Aakash got involved in the operations and scaling of the business while Neha took care of the product. They have opened more than 20 outlets across 4 cities within five years of their operation.
In Conversation With Aakash Sethi of Sweetish House Mafia
In an exclusive conversation with The Restaurant Times, Aakash Sethi talks of his journey in the industry, the story behind Sweetish House Mafia, staying ahead of the competition, and a lot more.
About Sweetish House Mafia
Sweetish House Mafia describes itself as the ‘secret purveyor of all things sweet’. The USP of Sweetish House Mafia can be defined around the following areas: :
Sethi believes that they are specialists in a product. He says that they make a few things and believe that they are the best. They offer a wide range of cookies and shakes to patrons. The soft-centered Nutella sea-salt cookies, gluey marshmallow-centered’ Mores cookies, and their delectable Nutella ‘cupkies’ are ideal for those with a real sweet tooth.
Sweetish House Mafia stores have a cafe next door vibe. Even with multiple outlets, one will not experience the typical QSR feel or vibe. The place is not commercial and that is what patrons love about their stores the most.
- Food Served:
The way the food is served at Sweetish House Mafia is what sets them apart. It is all fresh, their cookies are baked in small batches and their ovens are always working!
Unique Food Truck Concept At Sweetish House Mafia
Sweetish House Mafia’s story started with a traveling Nano that sold cookies made by a then anonymous baker. Sethi shares that they were inspired by the food truck culture in the US. They thought it would be a really fun and unique concept and wanted to bring a slice of that life back home.
A part of the reason why they chose to remain anonymous was that they wanted the Nano, the brand name (Sweetish House Mafia), and the product to have its own identity. And it actually worked, Sethi had their friends and family tell them that they should line up and try these cookies that were being sold from a Nano!
There were no food truck regulations in Mumbai, and therefore there was no license or approvals needed actually set one up. That’s what got them started with the Nano becoming the delivery vehicle of choice. Sethi and his team used to bake the cookies fresh at home, and then drive them to a pre-decided location where customers would line up – keeping alive the food truck concept.
Since the cookies were baked at home, a minor challenge that they faced was the limited supply available. Customers first in line used to stock up on the cookies, buying 10-12 at a time, and that made them run out of stock even quicker than they had expected. To keep up with the demand and to ensure no customer left empty-handed, they had to limit the product per person.
Staying Ahead Of Competition In The Dessert Market
India’s dessert market is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 19% by 2023, on the back of rising GDP per capita and growing demand from the expanding middle-class population. Moreover, the rising adoption of refrigeration facilities in small retail shops & rural households coupled with growing organized retail and e-commerce industry is further anticipated to positively influence the dessert market in India during the next five years.
The fastest-growing sector is desserts and ice cream – barriers to entry are low, but the barriers to success are not. As opposed to being a ‘jack of all trades’ – Sweetish House Mafia enjoys being product specialists.
“When someone thinks cookies, we want to be synonymous with that,” says Sethi.
According to Sethi, it is imperative to make a niche for oneself. Also, it is important to make sure that quality and customer service are impeccable. Researchers found that the #1 reason customers abandon a brand is due to poor quality and rude customer service. Customers are an integral part of the restaurant business. Imparting superior restaurant customer service and satisfying all the needs of the customer should be the ultimate objective of any restaurateur.
People tend to step out for desserts/coffee, whether it be post-dinner or a late afternoon work break. Sethi along with his team ensures that their outlets have a warm and inviting ambiance to capitalize on the dine-in demographics as well. Satisfied customers are an integral part of the restaurant business.
“We ensure customer satisfaction by having our operations integrated from backend to front end all on the same tech platform. From procurement of raw materials, conversion of raw materials to semi-finished goods, dispatch of the goods to the respective outlets, preparation of finished goods, and finally sales of those finished goods all happens on the same software and hence the otherwise complex process is easily tracked every step of the way. Additionally, we are able to track the historical demand and trends of specific types of stock to ensure inventory is maintained effectively and thus maximizing sales,” Sethi adds.
Strategies To Grow In The FnB Industry
- Researching About Consumer Demands:
According to Sethi, the barriers to entry in this industry are fairly low. Before entering the FnB industry, one must clearly understand consumer demands. One must research whether there is a demand for a particular cuisine/product, what is the demographic for that cuisine and what price points will work for that demographic.
- Strong Emphasis On Key Metrics:
There should be a strong emphasis on key metrics – food cost, salaries, other spends. It is imperative to ensure that your expenses are meeting key financial metrics. Some costs like the lease, mortgage, or insurance are fixed. Others can fluctuate and include hourly wages, utility bills, and food costs. Then there is always that unanticipated expense. A broken piece of equipment, a clogged pipe, or food spoilage in the kitchen can upset many well-planned budgets. It may not always be financially viable.
- Consistency In Food Quality and Service:
From the time they enter until the time they exit, customers should have a positive experience. This includes ambiance, service and food quality. Customers want dependable quality and presentation every time they walk into your restaurant. Having a consistent experience builds trust with them and helps in creating a positive reputation for your restaurant.
- Loyal Customer Base:
According to Sethi, it is imperative to ensure that the consumers you attract are satisfied and keep them coming back because of your product quality as opposed to its price – that way you are building loyalty and brand over a long period of time. Deep discounting only works for a while. After that, customers will only return if your product is good.
- Choosing The Right Location:
Location plays an important factor in setting up any restaurant outlet. Ensure that not only your core demographic is in the radius of your restaurant but that there is also a healthy walk in and delivery market.
Consistency, Location, Loyal customer base, Proper R&D and emphasis on the key costs and expenses, are some of the important strategies to grow in the F&B business. For every restaurant owner, it is essential to take care of these factors which would help them systematically manage the capital and thrive in the F&B business!