If you love the no-frills, industrial design of Social, the restaurant that has grown to become a hub for all that’s interesting in art, design and all things cool; and Smoke House Deli, known for its quirky style; the man behind these restaurants, Riyaaz Amlani, is famous for his uncanny ability to provide a one-of-its-kind experience in the world of hospitality. And if you thought having your fingers in too many pies was a bad idea, Riyaaz, who is CEO and Managing Director, Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd, will prove you wrong as he constantly churns out fresh ideas, hot from the oven, to ensure Indian palates remain satiated.
Here is an exclusive interview with Riyaaz, who is founder and the man behind several restaurants across the country.
"Today, people are spoilt for choice. They can eat whatever they want and can order various cuisines on their phones too. Food is so affordable now and exciting restaurants are opening all the time. People can choose from authentic ethnic cuisine, international cuisines and a number of specialities."
For instance, in Chinese food, there is Cantonese and food from Sichuan and Hunan provinces. Also, you don’t need to go to five-star restaurants for authentic food; you can get it everywhere. In all, it is a great time to be a foodie.
You need to keep in touch with your customers and listen to them. They have interesting things to say. You can also watch your peers and see what they are doing food-wise. Most of us learn from each other and build on newer things. We learn from our own and others’ mistakes and successes.
When we launched Social, we were determined that it would be a café for a millennial, since we already had a restaurant for Gen X. We found many new trends among them. They did not mind a shared economy, whether it was an Airbnb, Uber, or even their own workstations in their offices. Their mind set is also different. They are not pretentious or stiff in their tastes. When they go out they want a relaxed space which offers depth without snootiness. That is why we provided a restaurant that was invigorating and energising for them. Now, we have added art, to give them a new experience. When people go out to eat at a restaurant, it is like a mini-vacation for them. Their senses are more alive and they are receptive to new flavours and ideas. So by getting artists in to this space, either to put up an installation or art, we offer our guests a new experience. We are planning to bring in other designers to add to the experience, from tech design people to fashion design. Our older customers like refined spaces; and now with art we can give everyone both refined and casual experiences.
Since more and more people are loving wine, we are offering restaurants which offer wines and cocktails.
"People are no longer looking to drink just to get drunk. They want to enjoy the experience too. There is a great evolution here. People appreciate wine and when combined with different interiors it becomes a richer experience. There are several Indian wines that are very popular now besides international wines."
There is a huge emphasis on innovative and different techniques of cooking. There is plenty of collaborative work too, like a group of Indian chefs going to Hong Kong to set up a pop-up or a bunch of colleagues working to put up a pop-up restaurant in their city.
Fusion food is dead now. Instead we have restaurants catering to the many diets that people are following, for instance, keto, gluten-free, lactose-free or paleo. Health is, in fact, playing a major role in restaurants today.
In some of our restaurants we offer Super Healthy menus with special foods for dieters. So when you go out, you can look beyond a sandwich or roti or rice and pasta, and find a nutritious meal that conforms to the diet you are following. Many people also want local produce and locally sourced foods like cheese, kombucha, organic heirloom cereals, or vegetables.
Most people love the South East Asian cuisine, which would include food from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Restaurants have a high mortality rate, due to the high cost of real estate, regulations and other problems. Around 90 per cent of restaurants shut down in five years.
I have been able to counter this as I have been in the business for a long time. I do not use very expensive real estate and I also know what people want. All this helps.
Yes, and there are new trends in coffee too. People have moved away from espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos. They want different kinds of brewed coffee with subtle nuances in flavour. They like coffees like the pour-over coffee and the cold-brew coffee, which is about leaving coffee in cold water overnight so that it will take away from the bitterness.
I enjoy creating experiences for people and food is a part of it. People come to enjoy food. As for the kind of food I like, I don’t have any favourites. Why choose from one cuisine when I can choose from ten. We are always working on something novel and there will be something new around the corner in the future. Watch this space for more!