It was easy to attract new crowd; however sustaining their frequent visits was a task: Rahul Khanna, Director Azure Hospitality

Rahul Khanna Director, Azure Hospitality.

Established in 2009 by Rahul Khanna and Kabir Suri, Azure Hospitality is a creative food company. The food and hospitality entrepreneurs operate flourishing brands, namely Mamagoto, Rollmaal, and Speedy Chow. Mamagoto is the country’s first Pan Asian café format restaurant chain and is spread over major metro cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and New Delhi, while the other two brands ­ Rollmall and Speedy Chow are currently serving Delhi NCR region with outlets majorly in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida. Apart from the three restaurant brands, the company also owns Mamapaati that operates in the catering segment.

Candid Interaction with Rahul Khanna of Azure Hospitality

Rahul Khanna, Director, Azure Hospitality shares his experience, on establishing Mamagoto, his thoughts about the food industry, and further expansion plans in an interview with The Restaurant Times ­by Posist. Rahul comes from a hospitality background and has expert knowledge of the conceptualizing of design-oriented food and beverage outlets, special events, and training of operational staff in different capacities. Edited Excerpts…

Posist: When did you think of opening up your own Restaurant/Bar/Cafe? What were your initial thoughts about the business? What was the approach?

Rahul Khanna: Azure Hospitality was established in 2009 with a mindset to become a pioneer in the F&B Industry. Our initial thoughts were to create unique culinary concepts, with creativity at the heart of our corporate culture. We discovered a gap in the market where to eat Asian food one either had to go to a quick service restaurant or dress up and go to a hotel to grab good Asian food. Also, there were so many Italian cafes and no Asian all dining space. With these two gaps, we narrowed down on an all-day Asian café.

Posist: What kind of problems and challenges you faced at initial stage? How did you overcome them?

Rahul Khanna: Seldom do restaurants open and become an overnight success. The initial stage of Azure Hospitality was complicated and tricky. It was definitely a risk as opening a new restaurant involves timing, sanitation, teamwork, smart supply buying, great cooking and service. It was a lot to manage but the Azure Hospitality team always made sure to put our best foot forward. We had an aim to become a successful restaurant with a quirky and edgy theme and a style that would appeal to a broad range of customers. We wanted to stand out from the crowd, especially in the current F&B market where the competition is at its healthiest. Whether it was dealing with mayhem on a busy day, meeting expectations in terms of quality control and service, keeping a constant check on inventory and accounts, and dealing with laws and regulations, we did encounter a set of challenges that required continual attention.

“It was easy to attract new crowds; however sustaining their frequent visits was a task-” Rahul Khanna-Director, Azure Hospitality

One of the major challenges we faced was building our brand name, Azure Hospitality. It was easy to attract new crowds; however, sustaining their frequent visits was a task. Therefore, it was vital for us to keep the magic of the restaurant alive by persistently introducing new and innovative concepts and processing them, in a duly time and manner. It was a given that a few setbacks were unavoidable, but by giving it our best in order to manage and control those obstructions helped us in overcoming those challenges which have now helped in our restaurant’s growth and development. The pitfalls of setting up a successful restaurant were numerous, however, with patience and planning, we overcame them.

Posist: Was getting licenses and permissions easy? What are the important licenses required to operate any particular kind of restaurant/outlet?

Rahul Khanna: Acquiring licenses has been easy but we wish we could have acquired them quicker and through one window policy. Licenses that we required were mainly Health, Fire and Alcohol.

Posist: What is the USP of your Restaurant/outlet? Who is your target customer?

Rahul Khanna: What makes Mamagoto unique is its fun and quirky atmosphere. Mamagoto is a literal translation of “to play with food” in Japanese. The concept of the restaurant is to make Asian eating fun, experiential and social. To create a relaxed and casual ambience where affordable yet authentic food and drinks correlate with a quirky décor. At Mamagoto, we strive to create a youthful, energetic and vibrant setting for our patrons and serve them flavoursome Pan Asian cuisine. Our unique selling point is not merely meeting the expectations of our customers, but consistently trying to exceed them.

Mamagoto is positioned as a youth brand, but we cater to people of all age groups. So our target customer is basically anyone who is looking to have a relaxed yet quality meal at a casual Pan Asian Cafe with a colourful, lively and positive energy.

Posist: How do you reach your target customer? 

Rahul Khanna: We thrive on word of mouth and the attachment our clients have for us. In addition to this, we keep the fun-ness alive by introducing four seasonal menus every year. We may be an aspirational brand to many but we like to think of ourselves as a brand that garners the admiration of our fans. Our strategy for a good restaurant business is pretty simple. Our primary focus is to create Asian eating fun and quirky. On the basis of this, we have curated an impressionable menu where all dishes are made to share and are conducive to eat at any time of the day. In conjunction with this, all the dishes are freshly cooked with high-quality local ingredients at affordable prices. While customers always come back for the food, the interiors also play a big part in the whole food experience. The design philosophy at Mamagoto is all about enjoying your food in a casual, relaxed yet fun and quirky setting. The unconventional and eccentric décor at Mamagoto is what keeps our reputation as an edgy eating-out restaurant.

Posist: How do you ensure customer loyalty? What are your views on customer retention?

Rahul Khanna: We work hard to create a great customer experience with the aim to provide our patrons with a satisfactory service at a warm and welcoming atmosphere. However, our primary focus is on great food.

In my opinion, customer retention is fairly important for most businesses. It is much more cost efficient to encourage loyal customers than it is to attract new customers all the time. We, at Azure Hospitality, believe in incentives along with a great restaurant experience as it plays a large part in sustaining repeat customers. The same way, we ensure customer loyalty through programs that reward our customers with deals and promotions.

Posist: How do you see social media as a marketing tool? Why is it important for any kind of food business?

Rahul Khanna: Social Media is a key marketing tool for any business. It gives consumers the power to spread information to a large scale of people in a matter of seconds. The influence spread through social media is important, especially for the restaurant industry. This industry relies majorly on reviews and recommendations posted by the consumers. A great percentage of people often make use of various food and hospitality websites and social media to learn about latest restaurants and cafes to visit.  Social media not only gives detailed information about the restaurant, it also helps the consumers look up for discounts, deals and coupons and various other offers.

Rahul Khanna of Azure hospitality shares his insights on social media marketing

Marketing tool is also helpful when the restaurant is planning on an event or a contest. As for loyalty programs, by providing online perks, the customers feel encouraged to spread the restaurant’s name across their social networks.

Posist: What kind of technology you have integrated at your business? How does it help in managing the business?

Rahul Khanna: We have an ERP system and our brand applications. The ERP helps in coordinating with all revenue and cost centers on one platform.

Posist: What are the key mantras to manage employees? How do you motivate your employees?

Rahul Khanna: A good staff is what makes a good restaurant. Maintaining motivational is important not only for employee retention but also to provide a great dining experience. We encourage involvement from all our employees. We brainstorm together for ideas and problem solving methods. This not only helps the workers feel vital and involved in the business but also help build or brand strength and overall performance. We try to build our employee morale by being clear and fair. There is no inconsistency or favoritism whatsoever at Azure Hospitality. We also provide rewards and incentives to our employees as it keeps the motivation to work alive. This is an effective way to inspire employees and staff to work at the best of their caliber, subsequently performing at high standards. We also try to make the working environment profitable and preferable for all our employees.

Posist: How do you see food industry growing? What are the upcoming food trends in Restaurant and hospitality industry in 2016?

Rahul Khanna: The Indian Food Industry is rapidly growing and is poised for a fruitful future. The trends emerging in 2016 will feature a focus on authenticity in the cuisine served along with a theatrical element like cooking with fire and experimenting with different and unusual flavors. However, the definite way to go in 2016 is keeping food simple and real. Majority of these trends will positively be steered by restaurants as the F&B plays an imperative role in generating the business review. Consumers, nowadays, are constantly looking for new and improved ideas. They have a growing penchant for concepts that are out of the box.

Posist: How do you sum up 2015? How do you see coming years for your business?

Rahul Khanna: 2015 was a big year for us. Azure Hospitality raised INR 650 million (approximately US$10 Million) from Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), a leading global investment bank and active investor in India. This investment is currently being used to further expand Azure Hospitality’s three restaurant brands – Mamagoto, Rollmaal and Speedy Chow, throughout India and international markets abroad. Additionally, we have launched new outlets in top metropolitan cities in India – Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, Maharashtra. As for the coming years, many developments are currently in the pipeline for us. We are soon launching two new outlets in New Delhi and NCR, in Noida and Connaught Place. We expect expansion in not just tier 1 but also tier 2 cities and we expect to take Mamagoto global.

Posist: What are your expansion plans for Azure Hospitality restaurants? 

Rahul Khanna: We’re very excited about our way forward this year. Mamagoto is expanding with two new outlets in Delhi, NCR. The outlets will be launching in March in the lively and cultural settings of Noida and Connaught Place. In addition to this, we also plan to take Mamagoto to the international markets, starting with Dubai. Our aim is to reach a total count of 30-33 outlets by next year.

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Prachi is the Marketing Manager at Restroworks. In her current capacity, she establishes connections with key stakeholders in the F&B industry and serves as the host of The Restaurant Times talk show, "F&B Talks," tailored for the restaurant sector. With hands-on experience in international sales and marketing, Prachi has led initiatives in the LATAM and USA regions, contributing to the platform's global outreach.


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