09 January 2012

Lessons for the Virgin Restaurateur (Part 2) : The Navigator

There are  a huge number of people out here who are dying to give up their jobs to start a restaurant in London, a bar in NY, a beach shack in Goa, a coffee shop in Hackney…..

And you must do it. It is one of the most fun and creative things you could do. No doubt you will approach the project with the fearlessness and exuberance of a young puppy. You will have fresh new ideas that no battle hardened veteran will dream of dreaming. But it is out of a marriage of fresh ideas and old fashioned experience that a successful restaurant is born and thrives.

Because when you hit turbulence, and lets face it you will hit turbulence, you want an experienced hand to help you navigate. Because they have seen it before. In fact they will probably see the turbulence coming before it breaks.

I am a big fan of two young brands – Byron and Pod  - that look like they will go on to become institutions in London. They aren’t doing anything revolutionary.  The first serves proper burgers, and the second is a variant of Pret – just healthier and a little more interesting.  Simple concepts, an improvement on the existing order, but executed brilliantly.  Behind both of these brands lies the seasoned hand of Pizza Express & Pret veterans.

Restaurants are a special animal. The principles are simple (good food, good service, good prices, good location), but their operations are complex. Find yourself an experienced navigator to get them to buy into your vision.  Someone who you will listen to, but not follow slavishly. And get them on board early.

We Didn't.

24 December 2011

5 tips for the virgin restaurateur

These are things i've come to learn, not necessarily did.

1. Choose your first location with the same attention you would use when you buy your first house*

2. Look after customers like you would welcome guests in your home**

3. Your kitchen and its team is your engine. Dont stick a Ferrari engine into a beat up old shell. And vice versa***

4. Look after your staff like you would if you were an ambitious Indian mother****

5. It is never going to be like you expected it*****

* Take a long hard look at your neighbours. You need to appeal to them as well. Gauge the volume and quality of the footfall at different times of the day, during different seasons. How much work does the site need to bring it up to your requirements?  Dont buy in Chelsea unless you can keep up with the Chelsea set.

** I intentionally said guests not friends. Keep it warm and welcoming, but these are not close friends who are already familiar and comfortable being in your house. So make them comfortable.

*** High maintenance? Insurance costs? Reliability? Are you riding on slow city roads, or do you also want to crank it up for the highway? Think long an hard about the engine driver.

**** Everyday is the eve of the IIT exam. Feed them well. Love them lots but make them study hard. Ever so often you need to wear the pants.

***** The highs are higher and the lows are lower.

26 June 2011


Sam told me to watch Senna. So I did. Its a truly inspiring documentary.

And it struck me that F1 has so many parallels to business. Senna was so successful because he was a great driver. With a great team. Which had a great car. And this great driver, team and car could adapt well to different tracks and different conditions on each of these tracks. In fact they came into their own when the conditions turned rainy and slippery.

And on the odd occassion that they failed, it was because one of the key parts failed. Or they didnt know how to play politics that Prost could. Or they didnt keep up with technology that Benneton pioneered.

Its all about getting everything right. Every day. Every year.

19 June 2011

Finding Mr Miyagi

Business is hard. Yes, you will learn on the job, but sometimes you need the wise counsel of someone who has done it before. Someone who is truly independent and isnt a shareholder or a business partner.

Find yourself a Mr Miyagi.

Happy Fathers Day foks. Give your dad a hug, and seek his counsel.

14 June 2011

Running uphill

When you go for a run, what music do you listen to?

I tend to do most of my running in the hilly terrain of Highgate, so I tend to put together playlists really carefully. I try to mix it up, steady grinders from Chicane and Chemical Brothers help me on the gradual climbs.....

But when I get to really steep climbs, I call on the heavy artillery and forward to real uplifting tracks....infectious energy from the likes of Scooter.

Starting up your own business is like hill running. Some will run straight up the steepest path. They might get to the top in good time, but end up bushed and breathless. And some will speed up and tire themselves out each time they hear a really upbeat song, or each time someone whizzes past them. Some will run along the contours and get there much slower with a bit of gas in the tank, pause for a breath and then take on the next hill.

I dont think there is a right way. To each his own. Just make sure you are armed with the full range of songs so that you can change gears when you need to. And definitely have a great bunch of pacemakers in your team.

Scooter baby.

28 May 2011

Glory Hunters....

I think it is pretty apt to talk about this much maligned term. Glory hunters.

Conjures up images of swarms of people who love winning.

And what is wrong with that?

The spluttering economy needs winners. The economy needs glory hunters. Back a winning concept. Back a winning team.

28 April 2011

The Sandwich

So this week we got nominated by the British Sandwich Association for the award of Independent Sandwich Bar of the Year. It came in the same week that a descendant of the Earl of Sandwich tried to reclaim his legacy.

At first I was thrilled. And then I wasnt. Really, are we just a sandwich bar?

But now i'm thrilled again. Acid Jazz is also Jazz no?

05 April 2011

Letter XX: True love and Randomness

Dear Son

If you are the son I would hope you would be then you will have noticed that this letter is the first with a subject title. These are two important topics I hope to expand on in this letter and others.

True love, your grandmother once said, is "when you have lost your limbs in a car accident and your partner washes your bum after a semi-solid number 2". Admittedly your grandmother was, at the time she told me this, in the thrall of her latest yogi but there is a lot of truth there that I want you to remember. I will not bore you about ditties on love, but I would just tell you to remember two things. First, read the great C19 poet, Ghalib, to understand the true meaning of the idea of love and, in his own life, the dangers of marrying young and being imprisoned. I should add that at the very least if you are hoping to find a bride from the sub-continent (I wonder if they still call it that) then have a copy of Ghalib's book in your pocket, visible to the eyes of the world. This will impress any Asian lady with an interest in history and the mughal era. Second, do not forget that any relationship you have must give you the space for the randomness of life and give you the space to dream. Some people hate this but our family has a tradition of embracing it, which is why I had to divorce your mother (I discussed this in my previous letter).

Randomness and dreaming brings me to a topic I have not touched on in a few letters, mooli's. As I write this you have just left the room for your Latin lesson, and mooli's has gone from strength to strength, with more reviews in the natonal press. Its expansion is imminent. But I wanted to share with you some ideas I had - I am not sure how concrete they are but they represent my current thinking.

I was wondering what makes mooli's mooli's. Or what was it or is it that attracted me to it and its idea. Beyond just the bond of friendships, it was the idea of mooli's. Driven by passion, mooli's was not trying to follow the party line for other food stores. That idea, for me at this moment, is key and must at some level feature in the mooli's story and growth. But how? One way would be to avoid too much standardisation. Why does every branch have to look the same? Why can't an active interest be taken in giving each branch its own personality. This may seem mad but it is not as anti-brand as it may sound. It should be possible to maintain some unity or link to all the shops without sacrificing or giving in to the chain store (even if it is just 3 or 4) mentality affecting other brands. Similarly some of the branding that has been done well must be refreshed and replaced with new ideas - some of the posters are fun, cute and random but the randomness quickly dissipates if it is displayed frequently. At core, one reason why mooli's can continue to lay claim to being a bit different is that it has not succumbed to having a big a menu - the founders should not give in to temptation here. Keeping it simple is the biggest scream that "of course we would like to be profitable but at the same time we have a philosophy of doing a few things well and here they are". Many established and growing brands can't say that.

With this I will leave you for today.



31 March 2011

Well i'm in Mumbai and i'm waiting for the miracle

28 years since we last won the World Cup. and we've really pushed the boat out for this one.

We've assembled a star cast of specials - things that we've been craving. Its looks something like this.

1. Alphonso mangoes. On their ownsome. Because there is no mango in the world like an alphonso mango.

2. Old Monk rum. Thumsup (taste the
thunder). Dash of lime. Because this is the only rum & coke I drank when I was sixteen
in Bangalore.

3. Limca. Because Limca has "isotonic salts to quench your

4. Masala bhoondi raita. Because its nice to pretend like we're having an Indian summer and we need something to cool us down.

5. The haleem (goat) mooli. Because 3/4 of the semi finalists were from the sub-continent.

6. Aloo papdi chaat. Because it is the ultimate street food.

7. Lots of nibbles - spicy peanuts, spicy cashewnuts, chewda, sev, banana chips.

8. Kingfisher. Because we love kingfisher.

The party begins tomorrow (Friday, the 1st of April) at 4pm. If you'd like to munch on moolis while you watch the match at home - call us on 02074949075 and order a mini-mooli platter box. You'll get 15 mini moolis and dipping chutneys.

And definitely stop over after the match. Lets drink the bar dry.

28 February 2011

Horses Running Endlessly

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Gabriel Orozco exhibition at the Tate. I thought that one of his installation pieces - "Horses Running Endlessly" was a very good reflection of the quick service restaurant industry at the moment.....a land grab involving the West End, City, Westfield, Canary Wharf, the East, Islington, Kensington.....and back.

"Orozco has created a variant of chess, with four colours of square on a board which is four times as large as normal. This altered game is wholly populated with knights, the only chessmen to move horizontally and vertically in a single move. With no king to capture, the conventional goal of the game has disappeared, leaving the possibility of an infinite circular dance of pieces."

02 February 2011

Why do we do it?

I get asked this question all the time.

"What made you do it???"

Why does someone throw up many years of education, a "good" profession in the City....to start Mooli's. At a fraction of the pay, and six times the hard work and stress.

Because its REAL. Everyday we touch the lives of 400 odd people. We make their lunch breaks a little brighter or we finish off their day with a little bit of sunshine.

"@lovelychaos Oh god I don't want to leave soho and its warm embrace and @moolis"

"@onsomuchfire Thank god for @Moolis. There is nothing a goat and cumin potato roll cannot cure"

"@helenmusic Mmmmmmmmmmmmoolis....!"

"@ndeigman I will never eat anywhere that isn't @moolis ever again as long as I live (or as long as I work in Soho... which ever ends first.)"

"@CharlesGillett Just decided upon waking up hungover, I'm getting a goat @moolis tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it so much, my eyes are bleeding"

Everyday people thank us for their mooli. And that is priceless. That is why we do it. And we now need to reach more people.

30 December 2010

Strengths are Weaknesses. And vice versa

I’ve spent almost three weeks back home now, travelling in Kerala, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore. Reminding myself of the things I love the most (and least) about Indian cuisine…here are a few ramblings

1. There still isn’t any coffee in the West that can match a well made south Indian filter coffee (kaapi). Not an espresso in Milan, not a macchiato in Monmouth, not even my beloved piccolo from Milk Bar. The South Indian Filter Kaapi is strong, yet milky. Light yet creamy. To die for.

2. There are now fast food chains everywhere. McD’s and KFC strewn around far too liberally. As are CafĂ© Coffee Day, Kaati Zone, Subway and lots of other crap. The best Indian fast food is still the chaat wallahs of the North and the Udupi restaurants of the South.

3. Most Indian restaurant food continues to be extremely heavy. Heavy on spice, heavy on ghee, light on freshness. Not many lunches have gone by without me needing a little snooze in the afternoon, one of lifes little pleasures.
4. The Old School clubs (of the gym-khana variety) set up by the British still rock. They still do some of the best tikkas, naans, chicken s’wiches and fesh lime sodas. And the service still as wonderfully laid back.

I’ve had lots of time to think about Mooli’s. Everything that we have (and haven’t) managed to achieve in the last year. When Aditya (an IIM alumnus with a soft spot for a goat mooli) kindly prepared a SWOT analysis for us, one recurring theme was that our biggest weaknesses also happen to be our biggest strengths. And vice versa. Coffee is one of the most profitable items to sell, but we still don’t serve coffee at Mooli’s because we didn’t want the distraction that would have been required to serve an outstanding cup of coffee. We haven’t yet hired a manager because we wanted to personally make sure that everything was just right. Our menu is still incredibly focused despite the demand to serve dosas, madhur vadas, poha, masala omlettes and everything that somebodys grandmother once cooked for them. We use pomegranates, green apple, spring onions, grated carrot and romaine lettuce and other fresh stuff liberally, despite protests from our more conventional customers. We wouldn’t dream of franchising, even though that would be the most obvious way to grow and conquer.

It is great to know your strengths and play to them. But in this industry, there is a fine dividing line between the two.

13 December 2010

Know who you are

I have been religiously reading Seth Godin's blog for a while now. His posts tend to be insightful and to the point. This is my attempt at writing a Seth Godin type post.

Some people are better than others at knowing who they are. What makes them tick, what they're good at, what they're weak at, what motivates them, what's really important to them. The increased self-awareness helps them make tough decisions, prioritise and ultimately make their lives better.

It is the same with companies. The really strong companies know exactly who they are. What they are really good at, what they won't compromise on, what kind of people fit in their organisation. This doesn't mean they aren't flexible, just that they are aware of their DNA so when faced with big decisions, they know which way to go.

Many years ago I remember having an espresso (with jaffa cakes of course) with a friend at the BCG coffee station. I was telling him how Mooli's would be great at everything. He paused and said, 'you can't be great at everything'. He was right.

Figure out who you are. What's really important to you, what you won't compromise on, what you are going to focus on.

Then go kick some ass.

03 December 2010

Pubescent Mooli's

"Puberty is the process of physical changes by which a child's body becomes an adult body capable of reproduction."

I've spent so much time reading TABs blog posts, that i'm starting to write atrocious stuff like him. I just wish i was as funny. His posters have been photographed so many times that I suspect he'll get the call up from one of the big Soho ad agencies pretty soon.

But this blog has always had an uncomfortably honest streak about it, so screw it, lets talk about it.

We're at that very awkward stage. looking, acting and sounding a bit different from the babes we once were. but quite inconsistently. One day, we're dying to professionalise our management and operations, and the next day we're still fretting over whether the water jugs have been refilled. we come down hard when someone is late, and go soft over.....well soft stuff. it is so easy to be seduced by smooth talking financiers, PR agencies and landlords. and yes, everyday our mooli seems to get bigger.

"Under the influence of androgens, the voice box, or larynx, grows in both sexes. This growth is far more prominent in boys, causing the male voice to drop and deepen, sometimes abruptly but rarely over night. Occasionally, voice change is accompanied by unsteadiness of vocalization"

We're nice guys at heart, but are trying to unleash that ruthless streak that businessmen seem to need. i suspect every start-up goes through these growing pains but it must take its toll on those within close range. its great that we've got a wonderful team who are also learning to fly with us. the wind beneath.