A decade back, many people complained about Nagpur not having enough chilled out pubs or classy restrobars. That fact, left most of the Nagpurians with a recurring question – ‘Where do I take my friend from a metro city to hang out in Nagpur?’ At a time when pubs and restrobars were not very much in vogue in the Orange city, a young Nagpurian took a risk and the pub Ten Downing Street (TDS) was started in Nagpur. Over the years TDS, Nagpur has become one of the most popular places in the city. In a relaxed interview with Nation Next, Varun Sapkal, the man behind TDS, Nagpur speaks about the reason behind coming up with TDS in Nagpur, his other venture – the pure-veg restaurant Amaira – and his experiences pertaining to the food industry in Nagpur.
You came up with the pub – 10 Downing Street (TDS) in April 2007. It was a time when there were very few pubs in Nagpur. What motivated you to come up with TDS?
It was when I was 22, I decided to start TDS in Nagpur. While studying hotel management in Pune, I realised that Nagpur did not have a chilled out place with a soothing ambience and a classy décor for celebrations. Now, in western countries, a pub is considered to be a highly sophisticated place with soft music where people meet after their work to have dinner, drinks and to relax. But in India, people consider a pub to be a public utility bar. So, we thought of this British concept. We thought of introducing Indian delicacies of our liking and choice, with drinks and exquisite surroundings, so that Nagpurians can enjoy and have a nice time. The prime location of 10 Downing Street with ample parking space further worked in our favour.
Pubs are usually known for the loud parties they host. But TDS has always maintained a soft music and fine dine ambience. Did you make conscious efforts for the same?
A pub generally has loud music, dingy lights and absolute chaos. Ironically, we never saw that happening at TDS from day one and fortunately we managed to maintain the decorum of our pub. Initially, we had a lot of young customers, so we maintained the ambience according to their preference. Now that we have more of a family crowd, we have moulded ourselves according to their taste. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is what I have realised in the last few years. I’m very happy with the way we operate rather than lending my place for parties, as it ultimately leads to damage of property, exceeding permitted time limits and chaos. In spite of 10 Downing Street being a pub, we do not have the reputation of being a noisy and unruly place. Moreover, unlike other cities, Nagpur has to shut its pubs before 12 am. Neither can we extend the time nor does the crowd here demands the same.
Over the period of almost ten years, have you see a change in the kind of people coming to TDS?
When we ventured into this business, we had the elite young crowd as our customers. Of late, we have witnessed a sudden change in the pattern of customers visiting the pub. Families occupy the restaurant more than the young crowd now. Moreover, lot many people who were regulars at TDS have moved out of Nagpur. Many students as well visit TDS but of late they have become very money conscious.
What made you come up with Amaira – a pure veg restaurant? Is it true that in Nagpur, vegetarian food business makes more sense than non-vegetarian food business?
In Nagpur, vegetarian food is absolutely more in demand as compared to non-vegetarian food. Amaira was my father’s idea and his dream. Just like TDS, Amaira too has a location benefit. There was a time when Amaira was doing much better than 10 Downing Street. It was the business research which we did for Amaira which made it a successful venture for us.
With two restaurants of yours in Nagpur – 10 Downing Street and Amaira, you can be termed as a serial restaurateur. Does it make more business sense to have multiple entities in food business?
Yes, it does. I even owned the Hyderabad House restaurant, which was a take away eatery. Unfortunately I had to shut it down as I was incurring losses. In a city like Nagpur, roti sells more as compared to rice. Nagpurians don’t find a biryani more than Rs 100 pocket friendly! They want the typical taste of biryani with mattha. We tried our best to make the biryani authentic and genuine in taste, but the venture failed. Food industry is all about trial and error. One can’t expect success at every step in life. Sometimes you learn things the hard way and Hyderabad House was a learning lesson for me.
What drove you to create multiple ventures in the food industry?
Demand is something, which has always motivated me. It’s said that ‘On the top of the pyramid, only one person can reach and stand. If you don’t do it someone else will do it.’ When there were opportunities with good resources available, I just grabbed the opportunities and today I’m what I’m. It was always because of my instincts and gut feeling. Having said that, I believe that one shouldn’t take careless risks; one should always be calculative and well researched.
How do you respond to the general perception that Nagpurians don’t appreciate anything new in food? Do you see Nagpur opening up to new brands and concepts in food industry?
If Nagpurians like a particular food item at my restaurant, they would definitely the place again. Now is the right time to re-invest in food industry. I’m against the concept of blogs and reviews on Facebook because they are totally biased. Because, if somebody has any kind personal problem with me, they take revenge by bringing a bad name to my restaurants.
What’s your success mantra?
I have always believed that innovation is the key to success. Many attempts were made by our competitors to outperform us but they did not succeed. We have kept interesting offers for our customers over the years. For e.g., if a person is 60 years old; he is entitled to a 60% discount! When we started our operations, Nagpur was emerging as a corporate hub which accelerated our turnover. In a few months, 10 Downing Street was on everybody’s mind. If an entrepreneur keeps reinventing himself by providing value-based activities, it will increase his goodwill and credibility. That’s my success mantra.