Rachna Desai owns a restaurant called Chateau de Pondicherry at Adchini, Delhi. She was “not allowed” to go to hotel school, despite trying everything, owing to a conservative household. She started a catering service from home, more like packed food but in dishes and nicely plated. After years of experience and doing quite a few large size catering events, she started “Cafe Zaffiro” in Khan Market in the days when it was a sleepy little place with only some small chemist shops and grocery stores.
As the café gained popularity, many restaurants started opening up and the rents had become astronomical, which is why she had to close it then. However, Rachna has a spirit that cannot be broken and years later, she has opened Chateau de Pondicherry that serves Tamil-Franco food with lots of love.
She calls it, “Eclectic home style personalised coop for an unhurried, delicious experience. I would say that we are definitely creating an informal, atmosphere with an accent on creating regulars who like to go to a place where everybody knows their name and they are recognised.”
The Culinary Beginning
From since I was a teen, I dreamt of how it would look; what kind of plating I would do; the dishes I would present and the ambience I would create; and so on. Opening a restaurant resided in my being long before it was popular to do so, it was not a question of why it was when would it happen.
The journey was almost like manifesting your dream “Rhonda Bryan Secret” style.
The offer fell in my lap without looking for it. My first partner and friend found us a place in Khan Market when hardly any restaurant existed there; it was a sleepy neighbourhood market with chemists, vets and greengrocers. We started the erstwhile “Cafe Zaffiro” back in 2003. I had a catering background and experience of cooking for parties professionally; my only education was non-formal training at pizzerias and taverns in Italy, and at homes with the Italian “mammas”.
Key Learnings so far during the Entrepreneurial Journey
- Be obsessive and passionate that’s the only way to run your restaurant.
- Take constructive criticism and ignore advice that is unsolicited, follow your gut always
- Take care of people who work with you and for you first and keep them happy and nourished
Ingredients to Success
At the risk of sounding clichéd: Dedication, Patience, Confidence and be supportive of your workers and staff.
Passion for F&B or Business Sense?
Of course both in equal amounts; one doesn’t exist without the other.
If you have a partner then one takes care of the food and the other business management.
Or you have to imbibe both qualities. A restaurant is a business that has to make money to keep afloat, 80 per cent of the population seems to think they can open a restaurant business successfully but it’s a worldwide phenomenon that most of these places close down within the first six months.
It’s a tough line that demands your time and attention 24x7.
You need to be astute in business and very creative with food to keep ahead of others in this highly competitive game.
Since I don’t believe in marketing, we get the kind of people that completely embrace the concept of the place, by word-of-mouth publicity and genuine interest and love of this place. Quite naturally and not out of force and gimmicks do people come and gather here slowly but steadily. We cater to people who enjoy our personal hospitality and we enjoy their interest in us and our food.
We do outdoor catering, serve alcohol, and related products, even some furniture; make use of all the space by catering to in-house parties and serve buffet style food forget together since we are fortunate enough to have a big space.
We have so much scope for expansion just based on this model.
Plans for Expansion
My next restaurant will be a Gujarati food, pure vegetarian enterprise.
This is because the world is moving towards vegetarianism and I’m a Gujarati.
The location has never been an important aspect for me; people find you if you are good and reach you somehow, some of my old locations are proof of that.