From a young age, studying didn't interest Avantika Sinha Bahl and she always had a creative mind. As a child, she would spend days daydreaming and writing poems. “I always knew I was going to do something creative and different when I grew up! I went to NIFT, New Delhi and realized quite early on that this was not my cup of tea,” she added. After a graduation in Design, she decided to go to London for her masters in Luxury Brand Management. This is where she started shifting her focus on the hospitality industry. Starting her restaurant business has been the most fulfilling thing for her and she cannot wait to expand and showcase her ideas to the world. Excerpts from the interview:
What was the inspiration? Was it because you got married into a F&B family?
I started getting the idea of starting my own restaurant while I was still studying in London but didn't have the courage to take such a big step at such a young age. I got some work experience when I came back to India. Marrying into one of Delhi’s oldest F&B families gave me the motivation that I needed and I joined their business for some time while working on my restaurant ideas. I realized how high the demands are in this industry and how much scope there is for new concepts and cuisines, which can be explored. This was my inspiration.
Kampai was conceptualized by you because of your love for Japan and its food. How do you see Japanese food growing in India?
Asian food has always been a favorite amongst Indians; however Japanese cuisine is comparatively new. There is a huge population of Japanese people living in Delhi. They are my biggest target customers. 65% of my clientele is Japanese but I see new Indian guests all the time who are coming to dine in Kampai and are trying Japanese food for the first time and enjoying it. We have also started a high end-catering brand due to the demand coming from our clients and that has been extremely popular for us. Our Japanese catering ranges from curated sit down dinners, Kobachi menus (Japanese style small plates), Live sushi bars, Teppanyaki pop up and so on.
What is the response at Kampai? (Average footfall)
The response at Kampai has been extremely positive. We take pride in the fact that we have 65% Japanese clientele. We have a loyal Indian clientele too which is a mix of well travelled Indians who know and love Japanese food and also Indians who try the cuisine for the first time. Overall, we are extremely delighted with the positive response to the brand.
Who are your regular customers?
Our most regular customers are the Japanese living in Delhi. 65% of our clientele is Japanese. Another 10-25% is expats and the rest is Indians.
We see that the catering business is no more the way it used to be. It has become much more fancy and personalized. How have you redesigned Embassy Catering?
We have launched a new catering brand by the name of EBK Luxury Catering. EBK Luxury Catering is a high end niche catering brand which curates unique and personalized catering experiences. We have introduced several new concepts as part of our catering brand such as Raw Umami Bar (small sized, pre plated salads, ceviche and Carpaccio), Live restaurant pop ups (Kampai live restaurant set up), Live Teppanyaki bar, Surf n Turf bar (High quality meats and seafoods served with a variety of sauces and dressings), Dessert Bar – EDIBLE JAPANESE ZEN GARDEN and so on! Each event we curate is completely different. We do special pre plated sit down dinners, sushi bars and so on.
With Embassy Catering, we focus on traditional flavors considering it's a heritage brand with a very loyal clientele. We focus on high quality food and the best possible service for our clients.
What all you do at your restaurants to understand the market and customers bringing innovation into food & beverages?
My biggest strength is innovation and creativity. I along with my team spend several hours each week to think of new experiences/ dishes/ innovations that we can apply to our restaurants. We introduce seasonal menus, we will be introducing a special HANAMI (Cherry blossom season) menu in the last week of March. This is when Japan is covered in beautiful Sakura flowers. Sakrua has inspired our menu consisting of unique food and cocktails. We keep creating new experiences for our guests to enjoy something new every time they visit. We take regular feedback from all our guests in order to serve them in our best capacity.
How difficult/easy it is for you to be a woman restaurateur?
Being one of the very few woman restaurateurs has its challenges but for me it's a great experience. I take pride in being one of the few women who have dared to get into an industry, which is so male dominated. The industry definitely needs more women who can change the game. As a woman I bring a lot to the table. We are natural multi-taskers, which is a great quality for a business owner! I personally love the experience and have not had any negative experience as a woman in the industry. Instead I get a lot of respect from my peers. At the end of the day, my products speak for me and that's all that matters.
Tell us something about your new restaurant Mai Bao. What will be its USP?
Mai Bao is a modern Sinagporean Street food concept opening at the DLF Avenue, Saket. A popular chef from Singapore who has further trained our team to bring in this new cuisine into the market has carefully crafted the menu. Asian remains to be a favorite for Indians, but like Kampai we are introducing a cuisine, which is completely new in the market. Our signature dishes include- NasiLemak, Xiao Long Baos, Hainanese chicken rice, Singaporean Chilli crab, Pie Tee, Singaporean curries and so on.
Tell us more about your expansion plans?
As of now I am focusing on Mai Bao, I plan to open few more branches of Mai Bao within the next 2 years and also take Kampai to Mumbai in the coming few years. We are also expanding our luxury catering brand –EBK Luxury Catering and plan to take that pan India and even abroad.