Vishal is a foodie first and an entrepreneur later. For him, food is like Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Nothing makes him happier than seeing customers enjoying their food at Brown Sugar. With his passion, drive, and keen business knowledge, Vishal started Brown Sugar in 2011 with a staff of 8 in C Scheme, the heart of Jaipur. With patience, grit, and repetitive iterations, Brown Sugar was able to scale up to 12 outlets, based on COCO and FOCO models and 12,000 s.q. ft centralized kitchen to fuel the operations. During these last 10 years, team Brown Sugar has grown from 8 members to 200+, building different capacities and capabilities, acquiring essential know-how, and most importantly understanding the needs of the consumers in the model tier 2 city like Jaipur.
Brown sugar over the years has become one of the most trusted food brands in Jaipur and
has been able to create burgeoning customer loyalty, strong brand equity, and paramount
disruption in the food scene of Jaipur through constant innovation. “Tell me I can’t and I will embarrass you”, is the mantra that Vishal has coined and is the mantra he swears by. This true grit spirit of Vishal has been a pillar of strength for all of the team Brown Sugar to take up and conquer newer challenges.
In Conversation with Vishal Jalani, Managing Director and CEO, Brown Sugar
In an exclusive conversation with The Restaurant Times, Vishal Jalani, Managing Director and CEO, Brown Sugar talks about his journey in the F&B industry and how he managed to take his business into the cloud kitchen segment.
TRT- How did your journey start in the restaurant industry?
Vishal – We kind of started 11 years back and I belong to the film industry which is my family legacy. I used to take care of the business that my family had but there was something inside me that I wanted to only make and serve good food. I switched gears, and convinced my father and my family, and made the switch to the food industry. The film industry is a very comfortable line of work; you get up late, you sleep early, or you just party more; it’s more glamorous than work. And if we talk about the food and beverage industry, it’s more laborious work. It takes a lot of effort from you. It’s quite taxing, very honestly speaking. So my father told me that it’s not easy work. I wanted to start with a franchise of a very reputed bakery. We started our journey with a team of two-three like-minded people. So, we started way back in 2011. It all started with one outlet. I had no experience in the industry. But luckily, with time, we learned a lot and realized that there is a huge vacuum. Now, we have 12 Brown Sugar stores operational in Jaipur with one in Jodhpur, and close to five others in the works which will be up by March 2022.
TRT- What goes on behind the bakery and who is the brain behind Brown Sugar?
Vishal – We do a lot of innovation because we have a team that is dedicated to R&D. They plan the menu meticulously every month including food, beverages, bakery, and pastry. So, we innovate in all the extremes and verticals. I’ll be very honest, we have introduced things like Babaji Found You Doll, McNiff Auntie with Blue Cheese, and Limbo Cherry Kesariya, a Burmese concept. We’re doing all crazy things like this, and I’ll be very honest, the people of Jaipur who trust us buy a lot of these items. So, the credit goes to the team obviously; I just tell them what is to be done but it is them who obviously do it. And they make a wonderful product out of it. All the newspapers cover us almost every time we make something new because they know about Brown Sugar’s penchant for innovation.
TRT- How has the pandemic affected your business? What strategies did you adopt to get through it?
Vishal – The pandemic has been a tough time for the F&B industry. We did things that were pending for almost two, three years. We reworked our SOP, did our future benchmarking for five years for our company, and we ventured into new concepts like Cloud Kitchens. So now, we’re coming up with something new for cloud kitchens. In hindsight, I would say that the pandemic has, in fact, helped us out to plan future activities for the coming five or 10 years. During the pandemic as well, we did a lot of experiments, which people seemed to like, and it was a decent time for us very honestly. We have a production facility, close to 10,000 square feet, which was never utilized as much before the pandemic, and after it, we now have new outlets where we can add a bigger kitchen.
TRT- Do you see a bigger opportunity in cloud kitchens? Is it the future of the industry?
Vishal – I won’t say so on a 100% basis. If we talk about India, the biggest cloud kitchen chain is Rebel Foods, with a variety of smaller brands operating under them like Faasos. Cloud kitchen operations save a lot of money, but it is harder for them to have a brand presence because people won’t understand and know your brand until they see it. You should have at least one outlet, like we do, to create a brand association. A face outlet, if you will. We currently have close to four to five face outlets and then we have six to seven kitchens. People order because of their experience at that face outlet, and with the latter, they can order from virtually anywhere. Once you get the in-house experience right, you will have built enough credibility to then diversify to cloud kitchens.
TRT- Tell us about the catering side of your business?
Vishal – Catering is something that we worked on a lot during the pandemic. It helped us scale our operations big time. These days, volumes are low because we cater at a lot of places which are very small in size, probably no bigger than a two BHK flat with close to 20 people. The kitchen is so small that we cannot offer buffet service over there. In those kinds of places, we make all the food products at our factory. The major production happens in our production area only. We just do the garnishing and heating in their kitchen and serve everything to the guests. This is a new approach in the industry. We also have a food truck in the pipeline, which will be ready in about one month, wherein we’ll be able to prepare and serve the food on-site.
TRT- What other trends are you seeing in the restaurant industry, what other new things are happening around us?
Vishal – A restaurant should understand the feel of the market, they should be very much in sync with the latest cultural trends. We also faced a lot of issues when we were focusing more on the food costs, you need to cut down on the unreasonable expenses. It would be very difficult to sustain a standalone restaurant if the expenses would go very high. I think, after the pandemic, a lot of people are into healthier food options, gluten-free diets, dairy-free options, etc. It is kind of a fad where people say that if you want to be healthy, you don’t want to have dairy products. I’ve seen people trying it for a day and quitting the next day. The only change which I see, pan India, or rather globally, is that most people want to buy products only from select brands. They don’t want to go to any place which is located by the roadside because their hygiene is highly compromised. So, this is the golden time for the people who want to venture into restaurants and want to expand it because people are looking for brands and not for roadside options. Cheese is something that is catching up very fast. You need cheese in almost everything: your sandwich, your Maggie, your parotta which is your pasta with cheese. Zero pizza was a trend. We’ve been doing it. We did a catering order probably 15 days back, which was a very big one.
TRT- What are your plans for Brown Sugar and your vision for the brand going forward?
Vishal – I want to expand across three verticals. First, I need to expand our physical presence in the states I already told you about. Along with that, we plan to grow our presence through cloud kitchen services via the same outlets. This can increase our sales substantially. The third vertical is catering services which we want to focus on only in Rajasthan, not in other states. No plans for expansion of catering in other states for now, but yes, retail obviously would be increased in other states as well.
TRT- What would be your message to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to enter this industry?
Vishal – A lot of people are entering into food ventures. A lot of my friends have ventured into food, but the success rate is very low because they don’t know anything about the business. The message is that they need to research the market and offer good food. A lot of new entrants believe they can hire a person from the industry, and they will handle the business for them. They need to consider it as full-time work, and dedicate themselves, day and night, only then can it sustain. Do your research thoroughly and start as if it were your only business, not a side business. You need to have fantastic software; you need to have fantastic billing software to run the business in case you want to do the numbers yourself. That is one thing that is very important for young entrepreneurs because there is a lot of revenue leakage which can happen. One more thing, I would like to say to people who want to start a business should not involve themselves in everything. I’ve seen restaurants and some standalone businesses where the owner recruits a strong team that can plan and execute day-to-day operations.