Recipe for Suc­cess

Com­ing from a fam­ily with a rich busi­ness legacy, Aayush Agrawal, the 29-yearold di­rec­tor of Lenexis FoodWorks, has been well ac­quainted with the tricks of the trade. In con­ver­sa­tion with MARWAR, he talks about his com­pany’s flag­ship F&B ven­ture called Wo

Marwar - - Young Turk - Text Pooja Mu­jum­dar

A COM­MON PATH TO SUC­CESS FOR MANY A BUSI­NESS­MAN IS TO FIND A NICHE mar­ket and es­tab­lish him­self as a dom­i­nant player in it. Con­sid­er­ing that a large en­ter­prise with wide-rang­ing busi­ness in­ter­ests might not al­ways meet the needs for par­tic­u­lar prod­ucts and ser­vices of ev­ery seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, busi­nesses with niche of­fer­ings have the po­ten­tial to make big prof­its if they sat­isfy these un­met re­quire­ments. There is an­other ad­van­tage of carv­ing a niche, which Aayush Agrawal sums up thus: “When a busi­ness fo­cuses on cre­at­ing a niche for it­self, its com­pe­ti­tion will au­to­mat­i­cally be­come ob­so­lete.”

Cre­at­ing a cat­e­gory in the mar­ket

At 29, Agrawal leads Lenexis FoodWorks, a com­pany which set out to be dif­fer­ent. In this pur­suit, it found its po­si­tion in the mar­ket­place by launch­ing a unique ven­ture called ‘Wok Ex­press’, in Mum­bai, in 2015. Agrawal says, “I be­lieve that In­dia has a hugely un­tapped, la­tent scope for be­com­ing a world-class food des­ti­na­tion. In­di­anised for­eign cui­sine is a huge hit across the globe, but In­di­ans have only seen the classier gourmet

es­tab­lish­ments with limited pa­tron­age. As a niche cat­e­gory in it­self, Wok Ex­press caters to the masses by serv­ing panAsian gourmet food in the quick ser­vice res­tau­rant (QSR) for­mat.” While pan-Asian cui­sine was not new to In­dia, the QSR for­mat was, but Wok Ex­press, in Agrawal’s words, “con­tin­ues to en­joy a first-mover ad­van­tage be­cause there is no other brand work­ing in this space”.

The taste in a wok

Per­haps what makes Wok Ex­press so pop­u­lar among pa­trons is its iconic ‘Make Your Own Wok’ con­cept. For those who may be un­fa­mil­iar with the for­mat, it ba­si­cally in­volves cus­tomis­ing the dish you want to eat by pick­ing a base of steamed rice or noo­dles, the pro­tein or veg­eta­bles of your choice, and condi­ments and a sauce, the of­fer­ings rang­ing from tra­di­tional ‘Green Thai Curry’ to more ad­ven­tur­ous ones such as ‘Hot Crispy Gar­lic’ or ‘Bangkok’. Agrawal says, “Each com­bi­na­tion is uniquely crafted to suit the In­dian palate, so that cus­tomers al­ways have some­thing new to try at Wok Ex­press.” Even though the woks here are what the noise is all about, Wok Ex­press of­fers other de­li­cious dishes too, in­clud­ing soups, ap­pe­tis­ers, bao (steamed buns) with var­i­ous fill­ings, dumplings and desserts.

The con­cept that in­spired it all

Wok Ex­press was in­spired by a fa­mous fast-ca­sual stir­fry res­tau­rant chain out­let in New York, which had the

con­cept of hav­ing cus­tomers make their own Asian recipes and the chefs cook­ing it their way with the fresh­est of in­gre­di­ents. Agrawal states, “We were struck by the sim­plic­ity of this con­cept and the sheer depth of its scope in In­dia.” Even though In­dia was en­tirely un­ac­cus­tomed to such a con­cept and mar­ket re­al­i­ties did not look con­ducive ini­tially, the team at Lenexis FoodWorks de­cided to take a gam­ble and repli­cate the model in the coun­try—by of­fer­ing panAsian gourmet food in the QSR for­mat. Re­flect­ing on those ini­tial days and the suc­cess that fol­lowed, Agrawal says, “We did our re­search, un­der­stood the ground re­al­i­ties, and brought in ex­perts to help with the con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion, prod­ucts, mar­ket­ing and oper­a­tions. To­day, the grow­ing num­ber of Wok Ex­press out­lets is tes­ti­mony to our hard work and suc­cess.”

Set­ting up the first out­let

set out to train ev­ery in­di­vid­ual that they had em­ployed to en­sure a world-class ex­pe­ri­ence for cus­tomers. And they were im­mensely suc­cess­ful at it, go­ing by the good re­views that started pour­ing in post the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing. It was their first big vic­tory! “We soon ex­panded to other parts of Mum­bai: Wok Ex­press out­lets were opened at Church­gate and Ban­dra Kurla Com­plex (BKC) within a year,” Agrawal says with pride.

The tri­als along the way

In the years since Lenexis FoodWorks has been es­tab­lished, the team has grown to 460 em­ploy­ees. Agrawal says, “As we con­tinue to grow, we have brought on board dy­namic young and ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple that have never backed away from a chal­lenge.” How­ever, hir­ing the right peo­ple for the or­gan­i­sa­tion in the first place was a chal­leng­ing task, as was manag­ing the tal­ent. Nev­er­the­less, it was a chal­lenge that the com­pany dealt with suc­cess­fully, for they brought in spe­cial­ists who were ex­perts in their re­spec­tive fields such as hu­man re­sources, mar­ket­ing, fi­nance, sup­ply chain, new prod­uct devel­op­ment and oper­a­tions. Speak­ing about the other ma­jor trial that the com­pany faced, Agrawal says, “In­dia is a coun­try where there is a dis­tinct flavour in ev­ery nook and cranny. Ed­u­cat­ing the masses about the idea be­hind a ‘wok’, and bring­ing pan-Asian gourmet food to them in an af­ford­able, QSR for­mat was a huge chal­lenge for us.” Rather than be de­terred by this, Agrawal and his team took it in their stride and set about to over­come it—a process which has been slow but steady. The first Wok Ex­press out­let opened its doors to the pub­lic at Pali Naka, in Ban­dra, Mum­bai, in May 2015. Speak­ing about how train­ing the staff was of paramount im­por­tance in the days lead­ing up to the launch, Agrawal says, “Con­sid­er­ing the fact that Wok Ex­press was a brand new con­cept, find­ing the right mix of chefs, the sup­port team and sup­pli­ers was a huge chal­lenge for us.” Nev­er­the­less, Agrawal and his team ac­cepted whole­heart­edly what would turn out to be their big­gest as­sign­ment yet and

A busi­ness­man at heart

Aayush Agrawal is a scion of the il­lus­tri­ous Agrawal fam­ily that owns Ajanta Pharma Limited, a multi­na­tional

spe­cial­ity phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal for­mu­la­tion busi­ness. He grad­u­ated from the pres­ti­gious Bent­ley Uni­ver­sity in Mas­sachusetts with a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence in Man­age­ment, and then went on to pur­sue a Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Strate­gic Mar­ket­ing at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. Be­ing part of a busi­ness fam­ily, he had spent most of his life among gen­er­a­tions of en­trepreneurs. He says, “My ed­u­ca­tion gave me a great plat­form to learn new things. That said, I have also grown up in and around one of In­dia’s big­gest busi­ness fam­i­lies, so I think it is safe to say that busi­ness man­age­ment is what I know best.” Be­fore the in­cep­tion of Lenexis FoodWorks, he had also spent some time learn­ing the ropes of the fam­ily busi­ness and try­ing his hand at an­other F&B (food and bev­er­age) ven­ture. Agrawal’s grow­ing abil­i­ties as an en­trepreneur shows in Wok Ex­press hav­ing ex­tended its pres­ence with 24 out­lets across the city, in a mere span of three years.

The lessons learnt

For Agrawal, chal­lenges present op­por­tu­ni­ties for greater suc­cess, bet­ter ideas and quicker so­lu­tions. Apart from cre­at­ing a niche in busi­ness and hir­ing the right team for suc­cess, a big les­son that he has picked up along the way has been to stop and ask for ad­vice if stuck. He says, “There is no harm if you are un­sure of how to go ahead with some­thing and some­one in your fam­ily, team, or one of your friends has an an­swer to your trou­bles.” So who does he look to for guid­ance when it comes to busi­ness? “My men­tor and ad­vi­sor is my cousin Yo­gesh Agrawal [the manag­ing di­rec­tor of Ajanta Pharma Limited]. His ar­tic­u­la­tion and busi­ness acu­men is some­thing I re­ally ad­mire,” he replies.

The fo­cus in the fu­ture

Wok Ex­press has been a great learn­ing process for Agrawal when it comes to build­ing and manag­ing a busi­ness. When asked about whether he has any ad­vice for as­pir­ing en­trepreneurs in the F&B in­dus­try, he says, “While I am still in the growth phase of my en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney, I be­lieve what has worked for me till date should work for other as­pir­ing en­trepreneurs too.” And what is that? “One must al­ways look at long-term goals for one's busi­ness. This is be­cause short-term gains are tem­po­rary, while longterm gains keep on giv­ing,” he says. For Agrawal, the end goal is sim­ple: to cre­ate a dis­tinct pres­ence across In­dia by ex­pand­ing into sev­eral more cities. To this end, for 2018 in par­tic­u­lar, the plan is to en­ter Pune and New Delhi. We wish him good luck!

Fac­ing page: 'Hot Crispy Gar­lic with Ra­men Noo­dles Wok' and 'Peach Iced Tea' from Wok Ex­press Be­low: Aayush Agrawal, Di­rec­tor, Lenexis FoodWorks

Top: (L-R) Crispy Tem­pura Sushi from Wok Ex­press; Tanuki Dumplings from Wok Ex­press

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