Gone are the days of anticipating for opportunities to knock at your door. A typical career with a 9 to 5 job to feed on, loads of dissatisfaction to lament on and yet accepting this plight due to fear of failure has become a lost virtue for the youth today. If opportunities do not come our way, we pave the way to create them. Entrepreneurship has become the unofficial subject of our curriculum and has inspired to perspire, strive, succeed and live a life pursuing your passions. One such individual who strives to live his passions has worked his way out of the convention with conviction; Sasank Naravulla is one of partners in “The Grand Wok” restaurant(s), a Chinese resturant savoring your taste buds is one of the upcoming hot spots in Hyderabad. An engineer by qualification, Sasank has worked in an MNC for about 3 years and leaped into the food and hospitality industry 2 years back and now owns a restaurant and a coffee shop in Hyderabad. They have become one of the most famous spots for the general public to eat out with family and friends. He started off with almost zero investment with fewer resources and less knowledge but went on to establish himself. Due to sheer grit and determination, today Sasank has achieved what most people dream about, an establishment of his own. In conversation with him,
VP: Being an Engineer and having worked in an MNC, do you think you had the much needed knowledge to take the unconventional career route?
Sasank: Thankfully one of our partners (Ajay Kaveti) is from the F&B industry. So he handles the F&B part. My other partner and I look into the day-to-day operations of the restaurant.
VP: The food business is highly competitive in India, particularly in cities like Hyderabad. How do you think a new venture like yours would stand out to sustain the big bulls?
Sasank: The food business is definitely competitive in India. But at the same time there is room for everybody in the market. In this kind of market, the location is very crucial and thankfully we have got the prime spot or rather the best spot in Hyderabad (Rd# 1, Banjara Hills). But that does not mean we are the only people in that area. We have some of the best already established restaurants as our neighbours or across the road.
Initially, we wondered whether we would sustain in this kind of market particularly when the global economy was coming down. We had this thought lingering 14 months back when the global recession was at its peak. And we thought this might be the right time to enter the market as the tide is low and once the tide picks up we might not even have a chance. So after the initial research we thought we should go ahead with the idea.
As you have questioned, there are so many big bulls and everybody sells food. That was a tough challenge that we had to overcome. As with any new store we wanted people to come and try out our food. And we wanted to target kids, teens and senior citizens. We have very attractive offers for people of these age groups. This segment would always be our core group.
VP: Would you like to share the hurdles you faced while setting up your restaurant(s)?
Sasank: Ah! There were many hurdles. And they range right from the sourcing of the staff, ingredients to setting up furniture, design layout etc. Every stage was a task in itself. The restaurant sells because of the food, service and ambiance. So we had to get the best/right combination of all.
We have hand-picked one of the best chefs of Chinese cuisine across the globe. And for the service we have had each one of our staff undergo a two month rigorous training. And the restaurant was designed by the famous interior designer Renu Siraj. So getting this winning combination together was the most difficult hurdle.
VP: How easy or hard was it to get the needed capital for your venture?
Sasank: We had each stage of the restaurant chalked out. So each one of us knew before hand. Personally I had my savings from my previous company invested into shares. Fortunately it was like a stage by stage investment and I had to sell off the shares to meet the capital. But it wasn’t that rosy either as the share market was also down so I had to borrow some amount from my dad.
VP: Apart form “The Grand Wok”, are there any other ventures you have invested in on?
Sasank: We have started a coffee shop by the name “Coffee N Cream”. This was a launch pad before we started the restaurant. The coffee shop has taught us the nuances of this industry.
VP: What segments of customers are targeted by your restaurants?
Sasank: We target everybody, as every person is a potential customer. As mentioned earlier our main targets are kids, teens and senior citizens. The teenagers are a crucial aspect because when they party, they do it big and none of the other restaurants concentrate on teenagers. That is where we wanted to pick up this segment and wanted to create a hangout spot for them.
VP: What publicity measures have you taken to increase/retain your customer base?
Sasank: Apart from the discounts that we offer for kids, teens and senior citizens, we have also had some launch parties which get covered by the media the very next day. We also have the billboards and SMS’s sent out to the customers on a regular basis explaining them the promotional activities. Apart from this we always bank on our customers to do the publicity because we always believe that “a satisfied customer is the best advertisement”.
VP: How would you sum up the experience for a new customer at your restaurant?
Sasank: When a customer walks into the place with no expectations, he/she is just blown away with the food and the service. And the cherry on top would be the very economical pricing. This just goes on to show that 95% of the guest customer cards we received wanted to come back to The Grand Wok for the food and service.
VP: The success of any restaurant depends on the food and service rendered, what have you planned to retain the best staff at your restaurants?
Sasank: As I mentioned earlier, we have hand-picked each one of our staff and have been paying them even as far as six months before the start of the restaurant. That is how critical we were about the staffing. Apart from this we have our incentives and performance ratings to keep the staff motivated.
VP: Though the food business is less affected with the global recession, do you see any slump in the number of customers and how is a new venture like yours handling this situation?
Sasank: Every industry is hit by the recession and the spending power has drastically come down. Particularly because the MNC’s were the worst hit and the direct impact has come onto the entertainment and food industry. By the time we entered this industry we had seen the recession and were prepared for the worst. So we were not surprised by the spending power of the customers. And now that the industry is showing signs of recovery, it has comforted us a lot.
VP: What are your future plans with “The Grand Wok” and in the food business in general?
Sasank: Currently we haven’t thought of any such future plans. Right now all our energy is channeled into “The Grand Wok”.
VP: Do you see the potential for more ventures in this business?
Sasank: Yes, definitely. My guess is that every month there are at least a couple of restaurants that open up for business. So that speaks for the volume in this industry.
VP: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years as an entrepreneur?
Sasank: About 18 months back if you would have asked me about restaurant as an option, I would have laughed. But before I knew it I was into this field. The point that I am making is, that I take whatever comes by rather than hoping or wanting to be something. Because when you have expectations you are bound to be under pressure and pressure is one thing I cannot handle well. Let’s keep the fingers crossed.
VP: Being an entrepreneur, would you suggest the youth to take up careers of their choice as you did?
Sasank: Fortunately I had the support of my parents and friends to do what I really wanted to. I would certainly encourage them to do whatever they feel, provided they have their ground work all set up and most importantly have the support of their well wishers in order to succeed.
We are awakening to new genres in life and the options an individual has to pursue his dreams are manifold. We have to explore and take the confident leap to pave the path to glory. I hope entrepreneurs like Sasank provide the much needed inspiration in taking smart career decisions. The next time you plan on visiting Hyderabad, mark your schedule to relish the exotic Chinese cuisine at “The Grand Wok”.