BE­ING SO­CIAL WITH RIYAAZ AM­LANI

This dy­namic res­tau­ra­teur has rev­o­lu­tionised the way peo­ple party and spend evenings in In­dia through his uber-cool ven­tures like Mocha, So­cial and Smoke House Deli. Read on to know how…

Society - - CONTENTS - | By RAHULPAUL|

The dy­namic res­tau­ra­teur Riyaaz Am­lani talks to RahulPaul about his hop­ping ven­tures like So­cial, Smoke House Deli and The Flea Bazaar Café over some food and drinks.

The meet­ing venue is Riyaaz’s lat­est brain­child, Flea Bazaar Café at Lower Parel, Mum­bai. The place boasts of de­li­cious food and drinks from 14 dif­fer­ent brands put to­gether. Be­fore we could start, we had our or­ders placed as the place fills up like crazy as the day­light dims. Riyaaz ar­rived ca­su­ally dressed with a mis­chievous smile on his face. We con­grat­u­late him on the open­ing of his 10th out­post of So­cial in his home town Mum­bai, where he has had a very happy child­hood, he tells us. “I re­mem­ber, I was very fond of read­ing and was ba­si­cally an in­tro­vert, still am. Peo­ple find that hard to be­lieve but it’s a skill. I went to school at St Mary’s and started work­ing in a shoe shop in Co­laba at a young age of 13,” he says. I stopped him for a mo­ment to ask him if he was good at selling shoes. “I was very good at it and had fig­ured out that peo­ple didn’t want the prod­uct but how the prod­uct made them feel,” Riyaaz says mat­ter-of-factly. He doesn’t cringe from tak­ing credit for his tal­ent and ob­ser­va­tion skills. By the time Riyaaz was 16, he thought that he knew ev­ery­thing about the shoe busi­ness. So he started his own shoe shop at Sion cir­cle. “I thought I had hit the jackpot with the lo­ca­tion as peo­ple that time used to go up to Ban­dra or Dadar to buy shoes. Hence, I thought it will work. But it didn’t work. There were five shoe shops in Sion and none of them had a show­case or an AC (Air Con­di­tioner). Lights were turned on when the cus­tomers came in and the shoes were kept on card­boards. Whereas my shop

had AC, show­case, lights, ev­ery­thing… and that’s why cus­tomers didn’t come in, think­ing that it will be ex­pen­sive. What I learnt is that In­dia has many dif­fer­ent kind of mar­kets and peo­ple are look­ing for hon­esty. They are scared of too much fancy stuff,” he ob­serves. Hav­ing said that, Riyaaz be­lieves that the dy­nam­ics is chang­ing and ev­ery­thing is in the state of flux at present. The next thing that Riyaaz’s ever ob­ser­vant mind de­duced that peo­ple didn’t have many op­tions for en­ter­tain­ment. He felt there was a big need for en­ter­tain­ment. So he went to UCLA (Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les) to study MBA in En­ter­tain­ment Man­age­ment. Af­ter com­ing back, he set up an en­ter­tain­ment con­sul­tancy firm and started bowl­ing al­lies, go-kart­ing tracks, video game par­lours, sand­wich shops and cof­fee shops in var­i­ous pub­lic are­nas. “We ob­served that peo­ple who came for bowl­ing al­ways ate a sand­wich, even if they didn’t end up bowl­ing. So we fo­cused on im­prov­ing the food menu and gave more op­tions. Peo­ple like hav­ing places to go around them. They prefer liv­ing in a small flat in a buzzing area vis-à-vis in a big bun­ga­low with noth­ing to do around. It makes them feel more hu­man,” Riyaaz ex­plains. Through his ven­ture Im­pre­sario En­ter­tain­ment and Hos­pi­tal­ity Pvt Ltd, he even tried to ven­ture into films and Broad­way shows. But couldn’t quite get that right. Riyaaz’s part­ner in busi­ness and crime is Kiran Salaskar, with whom he has been friends with since kinder­garten. How they de­cided to start their first out­let of Mocha is an­other in­ter­est­ing story. “So we used to talk gen­er­ally about restau­rants, like ‘what kind of restau­rants are these? We will start one of our own some­day’. So when I got bored with the film in­dus­try, I told Kiran, ‘you re­mem­ber we talked over drinks one day about open­ing our own restau­rant? You want to do it?’ Kiran read­ily agreed but we only had five lakhs each, which wasn’t enough. We brought an­other college friend of ours, Varun, into the busi­ness to take the to­tal to 15 lakhs, but it wasn’t enough still. We didn’t have money to buy fur­ni­ture, so we brought things from our own houses, I even got my watch­man’s stool, and some­how we opened the restau­rant,” he re­counts. Peo­ple liked the mis­matched fur­ni­ture and other unique fea­tures of the place and it be­came a hit and the out­lets kept grow­ing in num­ber. Riyaaz’s next ven­ture was Salt Water Grill, a fine din­ing restau­rant set up on the beach at Marine Drive. The ven­ture was taken to Delhi as Smoke House Grill and then to Pune as Stone Water Grill. Af­ter a few years of run­ning the cafés and fine din­ing places, Riyaaz re­alised that there is a ‘ca­sual din­ing’ con­cept be­tween the two and that made him start Salt Water Café and Smoke House Deli. “In­dia is a het­ero­ge­neous mar­ket—what works in Co­laba will not work in Masjid Mandir—which is not even half a kilo­me­tre away. Also, in­tim­i­da­tion is a very big fac­tor. Peo­ple feel ‘do I be­long

here or do I not’. So the idea is to get ev­ery­body to a demo­cratic plat­form and that has been an evo­lu­tion. We started off by cater­ing to only a par­tic­u­lar kind of au­di­ence to find that the real skill is to cater to a wider au­di­ence,” he points out. Riyaaz’s most suc­cess­ful ven­ture is the all-day café-bar So­cial, which has be­come a rage in just a few years. “Mocha had been there for 15 years and it was pre­dom­i­nately for gen-xers, peo­ple in their 40s now. Millennials are dif­fer­ent kind of crea­tures. They want to hang­out but at the same time they want to work on mak­ing an app or build­ing a start-up and col­lab­o­rate with each other. So we wanted to cre­ate a space where peo­ple would come to­gether and col­lab­o­rate. A place where they can work dur­ing the day and shut down their lap­tops and party in the evening. So­cial was cre­ated for them,” Riyaaz says en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. Talk­ing about col­lab­o­ra­tion, Riyaaz re­mem­bers all the col­lab­o­ra­tors who came to­gether to start So­cial. “Ayaaz Bas­rai has been very in­stru­men­tal for us in cre­at­ing the con­cept of Smoke House Deli and So­cial. Then there is Faizan Kha­tri and Samir Raut of Studio Eight Twenty Three, who are re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing Flea Bazaar Café and a few out­lets of So­cial. Hanif Qureshi, who is the founder of street arts, has designed the menu, logo, de­sign lan­guage and voice for So­cial. Il­lus­tra­tor Kriti Monga has done cal­lig­ra­phy for us. There are many more peo­ple who have worked hard for the suc­cess of So­cial,” he says thank­fully. As for fu­ture plans, Riyaaz says, “My plans are re­stricted to to­mor­row morn­ing. I can’t make plans fur­ther than that be­cause the sit­u­a­tion is so dy­namic. We want to ex­pand our brands, scale up So­cial, Smoke House Deli and also Flea.” We part ways and hope to meet again at the launch of the next So­cial or Flea, or maybe an al­to­gether new place that this pro­lific en­tre­pre­neur de­cides to kick-start.

Vikhroli So­cial

Flea Bazaar Cafe

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