Featured Post

Trust: Missing in action where it counts

Whom do you trust? That's a big, loaded question. And at least one organisation has been putting out a Trust Barometer for 14 years now...

Friday, July 09, 2010

Kamat brings home cooking to travellers

It's a favourite snack point for many travellers and hurried city dwellers. When doing a roadtrip, a craving for warm food overtakes you. One will invariably, find a Udupi joint doing brisk business selling crispy medhu wadas, soft idlis and paper-thin dosas. These typical South Indian delicacies are now being eaten by millions across the country. They have been made popular because of their easy availability, even while on the move, and their served piping hot.

Despite its presence all over the country, there is no big hotel chain that has been set up by the most prominent name in this business - Kamat. The family has small establishments dotting cities across India but nothing remotely huge, like the Taj or Oberoi properties.

Chairman & Managing Director, Kamat Group, Vithal Kamat said, "Kamat (the restaurant) was started by my father Venkatesh Kamat. The first restaurant was 'Satkar' at Churchgate. When he started that, for 20-years, the 'Satkar' was the only restaurant. We joined him and after that we created a brand called Kamat. But six years back, there were family problems and the family divided and that's why we couldn't take this brand to its height."

"Otherwise, Kamat was known for idlis, vadas and dosas. So we created a new brand called 'Orchid', the environment-friendly hotel. If we would have prefixed or suffixed anything to 'Orchid' like Kamat, then people coming to the airport would have thought that this (hotel) would also be about idli, vada and dosa."

He continues, "There are 4-5 reasons for it (the business not going abroad), the dishes cannot be taken away with you. Secondly, it's very messy. That means with idli, you have to give sambar and chutney. And the third most important point is like dosa, it is an individual skill. It differs from place-to-place. Now sambar also differs from place-to-place. The burgers, which are made for hamburger, are common. The bread is also made in a factory. But in South Indian food, you cannot just assemble (the food). The Kamat brand was in Singapore and had gone overseas but the thing is that in between the family broke up and that is why it could not go overseas (and expand)."

Is there a string of Kamat restaurants in the offing, Kamat says, "Yes I'll have a chain called Vithal Kamat very soon. We are coming out with more than 50 hotels and this is going to be the Kamfotel - a comfortable Kamat hotel. Clean beds, clean kitchen, clean toilet and at an affordable price and that will have the Vithal Kamat brand." But will this mean the death knell of his unique selling proposition, USP, the affordable, fast and tasty almost-like-home cooked food.

Kamat replied, "Idli, vada, sambar is (available) at an affordable price, which is between Rs 12-Rs 15. The property prices are so high, it is becoming very difficult (to keep prices down). I read that the big chains are getting out of the mall because they can't afford it and the turnover is only during nine hours. If you take pizza, it can be eaten 15 hours later. There will be speciality restaurants serving idli, vada, dosa and that will cost a minimum of Rs 35-Rs 45. Earlier, because the property prices were low, these items were served between Rs 10-Rs 12. Also there is great skill required. I will find out a solution for that but the presentation has to be different."

South Indian delicacies continue to be most people's favourite foods, but it can be made over to the fact that most restaurants that serve these meals are South Indian establishments - from ownership to sometimes even the cook being from a part of India called Mangalore (where Udupi is the name of a place). So, is the magic in the recipes or in in the hands of a few?

Kamat said, " In this business, you require family and you require people to manage this because it is a day-to-day affair. If there is sibling jealously, if there is a family fight, nobody is prosperous. What you also require is, you should be able to tickle the tongue of the guest and it should be value for money. Business is not an individual's monopoly, anyone can be successful in the hotel industry."

To succeed, what really matter is that, "basically the South Indian restaurants must have a clean sitting area, clean kitchen and normally the guest should sit there for 10-15 minutes. If you make it too comfortable, then the guest also sits for a longer time and the equation changes, then it won't be a profitable venture anymore. So you have to give him comfort to eat for 15-minuts. Wherever you provide comfort at an affordable price, success is guaranteed. The lesson I have learnt is, keep your eyes and ears open always. Second, follow the success route of others and third speak less."

These kind of businesses tend to be exclusive family affairs. One of the things that one is used to see is that while visiting a restaurant, the owner or a family member is sitting at the entrance, at the cash counter. Is the culture of bringing in professionals from outside catching on? Kamat said, "Actually I am a free man because I use the three 'R' formula. The first 'R' is respect for self. The second 'R' is respect for others and the third 'R' is to create responsible people. We have managed to create responsible people. Each and every person is part of the 'Orchid' family and is responsible. Sitting on cash does not give me pride, making profit for the company and for the shareholder and for the staff gives me pride."

Does the Kamat name, which rings a bell with most Indians and is synonymous with the food it serves, have any copyright protection? He states, "In India, copyright protection is not observed. So the point is that you have to fight it, someone will add some suffix and prefix to the name Kamat. It is very difficult to control piracy in India."

Despite the success he has seen, there are a few regrets too. He said, "The biggest mistake that I did was 30 years ago. I should have joined an engineering course or I should have joined the hospitality college."

He, however, knows what makes restaurants in general, tick and what they lack. He elaborates, "First, the smile is missing in those restaurants. Why is mother's food the best? Because she puts love into it. The chef has all the ingredients, but a mother puts in love. The same way, if you love your business and you do it from the heart, you are bound to get success."

He admits keeping his staff happy which is also a reason for his being successful. He agrees, "I have made them (employees) responsible so they understand. Second, choose the right person for the job. Third, never pay them less. Pay them 5% more than the market and at same time, give them respect and admire them. Whenever you see a good thing, appreciate them because when you see a bad thing you reprimand them ten times! But if you see a good thing, please tell them that you have done a good job, and that is how you can create responsible people."

Written for moneycontrol

No comments: