Started by three school friends Thomas Fenn, Zachariah Jacob and Prem Kiran, Mahabelly has carved a niche for itself in the National Capital which already houses so many famous South Indian cuisine restaurants. Keeping their primary focus on food, Mahabelly offers the flavours of Malayali Food. The idea of opening an authentic Kerela cuisine restaurant came up when Thomas shared authentic Kerela food from home after college holidays, which was enjoyed by his North Indian friends.
In Conversation with Thomas Fenn, Co-founder of Mahabelly
Thomas Fenn, Co-Founder, Mahabelly recently interacted with The Restaurant Times by Posist, sharing his thoughts on speciality Kerala cuisine restaurants, and how he established one of the most popular restaurants serving South Indian cuisine in Delhi.
Posist: You are comparatively new to Delhi market compared to the other Foodprenuers. How much time did it take you to do the groundwork and research for your restaurant Mahabelly?
Thomas Fenn: It took us around 5-6 months to do the groundwork and research. But our research was only limited to a location with a target rent. We did all our backend calculation of how much investment is required initially. We got a lot of support in terms of operations as our family is running a hotel in Kerala for the past 25-30 years. We had access to people to talk and understand the business operations. Then we have friends who run their own restaurants. So, we did a lot of personal interaction with our friends and families to understand the eating pattern of the consumer, average ticket size, and the food trends.
Posist: You operate in speciality restaurant segment. What criteria did you have in your mind while choosing the location?
Thomas Fenn: While finalizing the location, we stepped into the consumer shoes and thought from their point of view. For example: If a Kerala Restaurant is located in Shahpur, would I as a consumer like to go and eat at the place? Now, the trend is changing now people are experimenting. But when we started, location was very important as we wanted a place which would be easily accessible and would also grab maximum eyeballs.
But if we were opening in a mall we would be catering to the footfall of the mall. So, the approach was started in the mall. We zeroed down to Select City mall but that time it did not have space. We did not open in Gurgaon as we wanted to have it in Delhi. However, from the business point of view, Gurgaon is better than Delhi it has a more corporate crowd who want to explore and experiment.
Posist: While conceptualizing Mahabelly, What kind of target audience did you have in mind?
Thomas Fenn: We wanted to cater to people who had some reference point from Kerala. We wanted to cater to people who understand food and travel a lot. Also, our target audience is the people who have more disposable income, and who want to experiment and eat out a lot.
Posist: How did you go about staffing and retention?
Thomas Fenn: We have tried to keep the entire staff local as much as possible. My Chefs are the only employees who are sourced from Kerala. All the rest, Floor Staff, Managers, Waiters, Housekeepers, Guards are local. We made this decision for two reasons – one is that labour costs come down since you don’t have to take care of the staff accommodation etc. Local staff, more importantly, understands the customer better because of the language. If we keep regional staff, language is the barrier. We make our employees a part of the project and their contribution matters a lot.
Posist: How Mahabelly is different to other South Indian restaurants?
Thomas Fenn: For us, food is the prime differentiator. Yes, ambience plays some role but it is not very critical. So for me, if food is good I will go to that restaurant even if the ambience is basic. We realized that either we should spend money to get the food right or should spend money on the ambience which people may or may not care about. Ultimately we have a very clean design from ambience standpoint. We want to position Mahabelly as a good, hygienic, Kerela cuisine restaurant. We have focused only on food and good service. Ambience can be improved over the period of time. You should get four or five touchpoints right for a better consumer experience.
Posist: What are your expansion plans?
Thomas Fenn: We have already opened a new branch in Kottayam Kerala. We are further planning to move to different cities like Pune and Mumbai.
As told to The Restaurant Times by Posist