Food: Two hearts, two heads, twice the strength

On the eve of restaurants reopening, we present four food entrepreneur couples whose biggest strength has been each other!
Chefs Hanisha Singh and Jamsheed Bhote (above), who co-own Plats in Delhi, adapted their menu to suit the delivery format
Chefs Hanisha Singh and Jamsheed Bhote (above), who co-own Plats in Delhi, adapted their menu to suit the delivery format
Updated on Jun 27, 2021 07:39 AM IST
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ByRupali Dean

The pandemic has taken a severe toll on the food industry. But it has also been an opportunity for entrepreneurs to regroup, rethink and work through challenges that hadn’t existed before March 2020.

For four food entrepreneur couples in particular, the last year or so has been intense. But working together for the health of their foodie babies, they’ve survived. At a time like this, that’s a major win. Here’s how they did it.

Chefs Hanisha Singh and Jamsheed Bhote

Partners, Plats, New Delhi

Both alumni of the Oberoi College of Learning and Development, personal partners Hanisha Singh and Jamsheed Bhote worked in hotels before becoming head chefs at standalone restaurants – Smoke House Grill for Hanisha and Café Mezzeuna and Tres for Jamsheed.

Today, they co-own Plats, which opened in October 2019 and serves comforting yet refined dishes from around the globe, with seasonal ingredients and their own unique spin.

“We are experimental with flavours and ingredients and are not confined to any boundaries in terms of cuisine or style of cooking,” says Jamsheed.

The two decided to combine their strengths and help each other through their weaknesses by focussing on the same business. “Hopefully we won’t kill each other in the process,” smiles Jamsheed. 

Surviving the pandemic

Once a solely dine-in space, Plats adapted to the delivery format pretty seamlessly because that was the need of the hour.

“Our menu also adapted accordingly,” says Hanisha. “We started Pasta Thursdays with specially curated DIY pasta and Italian pantry staples and decided to take a journey via our Traveller Series by bringing the world to the tables of our customers and experimenting with different cuisines.” shares Hanisha.

With the country being tossed and turned by the pandemic’s second wave, the two utilised the time to brainstorm on new delivery-friendly ideas that would be fresh and exciting for their patrons.

“We also are in the process of launching a new delivery-focused brand based on char-grilled gourmet burgers and chicken,” says Jamsheed.

“We didn’t want to work with delivery aggregators, so we needed to plan a lot more co-ordination,” says Hanisha. “Also, the fact that we have very little control over the food once it leaves our doors is something we struggled with. “

They also started with a very small team after the lockdown last year, so everyone was multitasking and doing whatever needed to be done. Eventually, month by month, they started getting back most of their staff until they were back to full strength.

For the win

In these times, mere survival is a victory. “It’s been a tough year and everyone has stepped up,” says Hanisha. “We are lucky to have such a team and hopefully we will all come out of this as winners. The love and support we have received from our guests has been overwhelming.”

Smiles from their patrons are also victories. “The feedback we receive from them keeps us going; keeps us able to adapt to any situation we are faced with and keeps us doing whatever it takes to tide through,” says Jamsheed. “It takes a village to run a small, home-grown business. We are lucky to have the support of friends and family members who help us with things that are not our expertise.”

Chef Avinash and Tiz Lyngdoh Martins

Partners, Cavatina, Goa

Chef Avinash and his wife Tiz bonded with local artisans and farmers during the lockdown
Chef Avinash and his wife Tiz bonded with local artisans and farmers during the lockdown

Trained at Michelin restaurants, chef Avinash Martins returned to Goa to take his cuisine across the globe. His better half, Tiz Lyngdoh Martins, plays a dual role at Cavatina. She orchestrates the front of the house, guest relations and food and beverage operations – and despite her lack of formal training, creates signature desserts for the restaurant, her newfound love.

Cavatina, which opened in January 2013, is a boutique artisanal restaurant that celebrates Goa and its seasons through its culinary creations. It is also a marvellous display of the synergy of yin and yang. Tiz does the sweets and Avinash the savoury. Tiz does the precision work of measuring and weighing while Avinash does the abstract and the free hand.

“I am the artist and occasionally my thoughts fly too high,” says Avinash. “Tiz outlines the vista and makes the path. We bring out the best in each other, which actually is what Cavatina means!”

Surviving the pandemic

During last year’s lockdown, the restaurant was shut for a good five months. “But we had food cooked from home and delivered to our guests. We did Saturday specials, with the menu changing every week. That kept our relationships with our guests going,” says Tiz.

They also had to take care of their team. “We had to keep them afloat somehow,” says Avinash. “Both Tiz and I did online cooking shows. We catered for small parties and so on. Anything that could bring us some revenue and helped keep roofs over the heads of our team and food on their tables.”

For the win

While doing whatever they could to survive, Tiz and Avinash also used the lockdown period to strengthen their relationships with local farmers and artisans.

“We tried to support them as well,” says Avinash. “The initial months of lockdown were tough, but then gradually we received a good response from our guests and our confidence grew.”

During the lockdown, they served fresh, seasonal and organic food, focussed on their confidence and worked on new dishes. “We paid close attention to changing trends and we chose to take a path which was unusual,” says Tiz.

Deepa and Jaikar Reddy

Partners, Foncé, Hyderabad

For Deepa and Jaikar Reddy of Foncé, training their staff in safety measures was a priority
For Deepa and Jaikar Reddy of Foncé, training their staff in safety measures was a priority

Engineer and MBA professional Deepa fine-tuned her passion for chocolate and chocolate making by attending workshops abroad. 

Jaikar, an MBA professional, has an infrastructure company. He is also Deepa’s guinea pig and her first fan. Which was why in October 2017, he decided to back Deepa’s skills and in December 2020, he opened Foncé Chocolatier & Café.

Deepa’s strength is creation, innovation and development and Jaikar’s is business and marketing.  

Surviving the pandemic

The lockdown had hit while Foncé was still being designed and constructed.

“We took these conditions in our stride and used that time to thoroughly research and develop the products and menu,” says Jaikar. “Training our staff in safety measures was also a priority.”

By last October, they had more clarity in their vision. “Our focus was to offer an exceptional Covid-clean café experience, ensuring safety for everyone,” says Deepa.

For the win

A positive mind-set is everything. “We have an exceptional team and friends and family, who were already part of the food and chocolate trials during the lockdown, who supported us by placing home delivery orders,” says Deepa.

“We look at every situation with fresh pairs of eyes and distil what it is trying to teach us,” says Jaikar.

Ishita and Maulik D Chheda

Partners, Felicita & Scoop’d, Mumbai

Ishita and Maulik retained their staff during the pandemic and sustained themselves with different models
Ishita and Maulik retained their staff during the pandemic and sustained themselves with different models

Ishita is the creative director and the face of the brands. Maulik is the co-founder and operations director. Felicità ­— Crafting Cacao is a chocolate confectionery company which opened in August 2015 and offers luxury bespoke gifting and eating experiences for artisanal chocolates, flavoured dry-fruits, healthy trail mixes, granola and hampers. Scoop’d – Seriously Good Ice-Creams was launched last June and serves authentic European ice-cream which is rich, creamy and made with fresh premium ingredients. 

The couple’s strengths and weaknesses complement each other beautifully to make their brands stronger. “In tough times, we became strong together emotionally too, thus bringing out the best in each other for our brands,” says Ishita.

Surviving the pandemic

Low capital and a variety of cost-effective strategies helped them survive the pandemic.

“We retained all our staff and sustained ourselves with different models, which involved creating an e-commerce website, door-to-door delivery operations, a new healthy menu and making our products more cost-effective and pocket-friendly,” says Maulik.

“Our USP is using hand-picked class ingredients and flavours obtained from their dwelling of origin, giving our patrons a special food experience,” says Ishita.

For the win

“Hard work, devotion, passion and trust in us and our brands kept us going,” says Ishita. “We launched our new vertical, Scoop’d Ice-Creams, during the pandemic, which brought a new vision, success and strength to both brands.”

From HT Brunch, June 27, 2021

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Thursday, December 02, 2021