A self-confessed serial entrepreneur and architect-turned-restaurateur Mukul Kulkarni knows that he’s cast a spell in his second spell by creating a one-of-a-kind restaurant The Breakfast Story. In a candid chat with Nation Next, Mukul Kulkarni speaks fondly of the ‘monster’ he’s created in Nagpur.
What exactly has made The Breakfast Story such a humungous success? Is it the food or the cool quotient of the restaurant?
I think it’s the combo of everything: the location, the food, the service and the cool quotient. I always wanted to go to a place like this to chill and have food but sadly nothing like this was available in Nagpur.
How much would you attribute the success of The Breakfast Story to your pleasant personality?
I don’t know about the charm in my personality. I’ve put up a restaurant as I am fond of meeting people and exploring. Since this place has come into being, I have made numerous friends, right from an eight-year-old to the middle aged people. People get a homely feeling when they enter this place and hence they feel really comfortable here. It gives me immense pleasure when certain young customers give my reference to their friends, saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to Breakfast story! Meet that Kulkarni uncle there.’ A lot of young crowd comes here; and as I’ve been a teacher for long (at LAD and Priyadarshini college), I understand what sort of atmosphere would the youth like and get accustomed with.
It was quiet a hospitable experience to see the owner himself serving…
I clean tables too! See, the whole idea is that people should feel that they’ve come to my home. And we serve our guests at our home, right! When I was young, every summer, my siblings and my mother would visit my nani’s house and I would follow them after a month as being an architecture student, I had to stay back for my exams. So, my mother taught me certain preparations of basic food as there were hardly any places to eat out in those times. During this period, my friends and I used to have joint studies. I would cook and serve them and they actually liked it. And it felt great serving them. Service teaches you humility.
Cynics claim that Nagpur has a history of not accepting innovations, especially vis-à-vis gourmet. So, where did you get the confidence of fiddling with quite innovative idea of The Breakfast Story?
I did have my moments of apprehensions. There came a time when everything was in place by conventional standards – consultants, regular chefs and a set up – still I was dicey about launching the restaurant. I was getting the feeling that something was not proper. Then, I followed my heart and did what I primarily wanted to do. I wanted to serve the home recipes in a homely environment. One thing was there in my mind that the restaurant business is all about repeat customers; so, I wanted to make the first experience of every customer wonderful. I just worked on that. Moreover, my chefs have been major strength all throughout as they knew I had nothing to lose. This being a self-owned place, I could have turned it into a furniture shop, but they would have lost their job. They supported me throughout in fulfilling my agenda, and that’s the reason we could do it.
While one can see students chilling out here, families also throng your restaurant. What would you say about this all-pervasive response as you had apparently positioned it as a place for youngsters?
No, it was never targeted at a specific age group. Instead, this was for all. In the nearby area i.e. Digdoh Hills, we’ve 12 colleges (starting from engineering to medical to business schools); so, more of young crowd is noticed here. But we’ve people from not only belonging to all age groups but also from neighbouring cities. For instance, there’s a certain group from Gondia, which frequently visits The Breakfast Story. They drive all the way for like two and half hours, drop by here, have their breakfast, spend some really good time and move back to their city.
So, you must have marketed yourself well in nearby cities.
Not at all! All this happened by default. We’ve not put in any extra efforts in marketing ourselves, even in Nagpur. Though, my son Kaivalya started a Facebook page and a twitter handle of The Breakfast Story, we got majorly popular through word of mouth only. People came, had their own experiences and loved to come again. We don’t have preservatives and additives like gelatin and ajinomoto; we don’t even serve any aerated drinks. For that matter, whatever spices are required at our restaurant are all home-made; my wife prepares them all. So in short, we take care of our customers and this is what hospitality means.
You are an architect by profession. So, The Breakfast Story is a diversification or diversion from your profession…
I have been a serial entrepreneur. While I have been a successful architect, I have been managing furniture businesses and also I have been trading with an Italian firm for three and a half years. Being an architect actually makes you a multi-faceted personality and you develop certain strengths, which make you a competitive professional. One also has to follow his/her passion, and that is only possible when you are comfortable in life. People do ask me if I have retired and I answer a yes to that question but only by suffixing to it, after a pause ‘from the rat race’.
After getting such a good response to your first restaurant, do you have any plans to venture further into hospitality industry? Should we expect another ‘The Breakfast Story’ in the future?
That is not in my hands. I know that I have created a monster called The Breakfast Story. Every now and then, I’ve people asking me for opening a franchise of the same. Not only from Nagpur but we’ve got such franchise offers from metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Gurgaon etc. But I’m not intending to beat around the same concept. I would like to diversify in hospitality, provided I get a different concept. Also, I need people with same passion to tie up with. Otherwise, it’ll be business without soul. Well, to answer your question, there may be a lunch story or dinner story in my life but certainly not another breakfast story!