They bear the moniker of Bengaluru. Homegrown, young and quirky, tried and tested, the city's chefs and entrepreneurs have transformed their eateries, from laid back cantonment style to meet the demands of a firebrand city that loves its food, and are now taking Brand Bangalore, well beyond the city's confines to every metro and boomtown across the country.
Be it Sukh Sagar or Empire or the icecream hub we have all come to love, Corner House, the whimsical entities of Fatty Bao and Monkey Bar, or the casual tippler havens like Watsons, or the more epicurean tenets of Chef Abhijit Saha's Saha that has just opened in Singapore, every single hit in this city with the eclectic foodie is a success story duplicated elsewhere.
Managing partner, and chef extraordinaire Manu Chandra's Monkey Bar is now four outlets strong in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkatta and Delhi, and his Fatty Bao has five outlets in Delhi, Mumbai that Chandra runs with Chetan Rampal in partnership with Olive Bar and Kitchen.
Amit Roy's Watsons went to Goa, adding Xiit Kodi thali and chorizo for a local Goan flavour, while keeping the Syrian beef, kodi karepak vepudu or podi mas intact. Pune and Chennai are in the pipeline. Smally's was started as the smallest burger cafe in the city, which is looking the Chennai way even as its young entrepreneur Nikhil Hegde has already opened five outlets across the city.
So what makes our city a place where new ideas, candid expressions of grub and grappa emerge as the soul of the city.?
Brand Bangalore has always been that travelling entity that sprinkles its taste trail and whimsicality across India and the world, the brainchild of young and creative individuals who have dared to spread their wings. Its undoubtedly, youthful verve and open foodie mindset, and experimental nature makes the city a hub for startups in hospitality. Which has intrinsically made it the playing ground for innovations that are somewhat unique yet homely, local yet global. The oldest of the city brands is the famed Mavalli Tiffin Room, which has since opened outlets across India, Singapore, Dubai and Muscat, after an angel investor stepped in, with two separate businesses, restaurant and food mixes.
We asked the food people what makes the city such a favourite, and chef Manu Chandra who's East Village hub Toast and Tonic is set to open in Mumbai mid-2017 says, "The thing with Bangaluru based pubs and restaurants is that they've had a chance to open in one of the best test markets there is in the country. Not only from a price to offering ratio, but also because the city tends to be more experimental and embracing to fresh concepts. Not only did we open our first Monkey Bars and Fatty Baos here, but Riyaz started Social from here too, as did Shiro and Hard Rock."
For Amit Roy, the man behind many standalones the city, and Watsons with Think Tanc, the MO is, "Keep it simple - get you product right first, tweak it again and again once your 1000 per cent sure, test the waters with another outlet in the same city before jumping to another city."
The city foodie is what makes these initiatives blossom into entities, and chef Chandra feels, "The success rate across brands is there for all to see; but as is the case with any city, there are challenges that we all face, so small tweaks are often required. Real estate isn't at parity across the country either, nor are Excise or government policies. But for me at least, the city continues to be a great place to float and propagate brands."
Which is what the new Pan Asian dim sum and Bao bar MISU might be following after opening the first outlet a month ago. Amit Ahuja, behind the Open Box and MISU wants to settle this first, before he takes the dim sum bar to other cities, and Chennai and Goa are quite the route many follow.
"Restaurants today are giving huge attention to creativity and innovation. Plane jane boring just doesn't work anymore," he said, talking up plans to open TOB 2.0, a full fledged upgrade of the flagship concept, The Open Box.
MINIMALIST: Nikhil Hegde followed a minimalist approach. "I wanted to eliminate initial overheads and liabilities so I decided to start a petite sized cafe. For a start up restaurant, the food has to be bang on, you just cannot afford to go wrong. My minimalist approach only allowed us to stay conservative with a risk that any start up goes through initially. Social media really helped us gain attention as India's? smallest restaurant and that's where most of the story began."
In terms of the future, Hegde adds, "considering the country's Rs 75,000 crore restaurant market with an annual growth rate of 7.5 percent with a little more than 1.5 million restaurants in the country, it's a tough job staying ahead of the pack but we are confident of raising the right investment to drive into 1 and 2 tier cities across india."
For Amit, Watson's was the inherent essence of the pub city, which any Bengalurean relates to. "Watsons started as a neighbourhood outlet, we never thought it would scale so fast and move to other cities. The key to this is to ensure that your central team is in place and your processes are in place."
And apart from the foundation, Roy also complains like many restauranteurs about the challenges, "logistics and location-as not all locations offer the same environments."