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We will have 200 Social outlets in 5 years: Riyaaz Amlani

We will have 200 Social outlets in 5 years: Riyaaz Amlani

"We are very excited about the non-metro story of India. We think that's where the real relevance is going to be," says the 47-year-old CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, which has 61 restaurants across 16 cities, including the famous chain, Social.

The menu at Social Hauz Khas offers two new dishes, the Boat-e-Kebab and Boat-e-Chaap to pay homage to the Social works success story. The menu at Social Hauz Khas offers two new dishes, the Boat-e-Kebab and Boat-e-Chaap to pay homage to the Social works success story.

Having completed two decades in the F&B industry, Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants is bullish on the India story.

"We are very excited about the non-metro story of India. We think that's where the real relevance is going to be. Start-ups are happening everywhere. The monopoly that Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore had on thought leadership and business leadership is going to be questioned. I think tomorrow's leaders are going to come from everywhere. And hopefully, we will be there to serve them," says Amlani, the 47-year-old CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, which has 61 restaurants across 16 cities.

As Impresario completes two decades in the industry, Amlani says as a restaurateur he has grown up with the Indian consumption story.

Riyaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants
Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants

"Earlier there were only 5-stars, no-standalone restaurants. Very little in terms of QSR, casual dining was absent. Things have evolved and changed in the last 20 years. From having no choice to being spoilt for choice, the Indian consumer has seen it all. Earlier all restaurants had the same menu – Indian, Chinese, Mughlai and Continental. But we can now see the Indian consumers' preferences. People know what they want and they are not shy to ask for it," says Amlani, who started the cafe culture in Mumbai in 2002 by setting up Mocha. Today there are 16 Mocha outlets across the country.

But it is his brand Social that first opened in 2014 that he is most bullish about. Currently, there are 33 Social outlets (with the latest one being in Delhi's Aerocity) across seven cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Indore. Amlani plans to have 200 Social outlets over the next five years.

"Social is an exciting opportunity for us. We believe that we are just starting off. Social is not just a bar or a cafe, it's also a co-working space. It has a real relevance in a customer's life and their journey also," he says, stating how Aman Gupta and Sameer Mehra, the founders of boAt, set up shop and gave birth to their brand at Social at Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi, which recently reopened having shut down during the pandemic.

In fact, the menu at Social Hauz Khas offers two new dishes, the Boat-e-Kebab and Boat-e-Chaap to pay homage to the Social works success story.

"We hope to become the largest network of co-working spaces in the country. We want to be able to use Social as a network of connecting people and ideas. If you have half an idea and someone somewhere else has half an idea we want to be able to use our offline presence to build bridges and connect people," he says.

Amlani feels that the gap between metros and Tier-2 cities is shrinking now. While Social is already present in Chandigarh and Indore, Amlani plans to open more Social outlets in tier-2 cities.

"We are very focussed on what a cafe of tomorrow should be like. We don't want to just import a concept. We want a cafe that understands the mindset of an Indian customer and caters to that," says Amlani about Social.  "Our menus change from state to state because we understand that the palates change. People in Delhi like red chilli spice. People in Chennai like black pepper spice. Bombay people like a little sweet in their food. We understand these things. We are all about local relevance," says the man who made it fashionable to eat out of brass plates and drink out of glass jars, a Social quirk.

While Impresario Handmade Restaurants reached only 40 per cent of its pre-Covid revenues in FY21 and 76 per cent in FY22, this year has started with a bang for them and they expect to close 2023 at Rs 600-650 crore.

"We have recovered our pandemic losses. April 2022 was the highest month for us at Rs 46 crore revenue. Business has really come back. And now as we add a couple of restaurants every month going forward, we should be able to take it Rs 48 crore and then Rs 50 crore," says Amlani. Currently Social contributes 70 per cent to the total revenue with a Social outlet taking 24 months to break even.

While Mocha has a franchisee model, Amlani says he won't do that for Social, all outlets will be owned and run by the company. "Social will be our main focus. We will open 12 and then 18 and then 24 a year going forward," he says.

Impresario, in which Singapore-based private equity firm L Catterton Asia bought a 70 per cent stake in 2017 also has Salt Water Café, Slink & Bardot, Soufflé S'il Vous Plaît and Prithvi Café in Mumbai.

Another brand close to Amlani's heart is Smoke House Deli which serves European food. Currently, there are 9 Smoke House Deli outlets in 3 cities. Another one is opening in Mumbai soon. "With Smoke House Deli we are going to be a bit cautious. We are not going to go charging ahead. European food definitely has a market and we find ourselves as the only national European chain," says Amlani. He plans to open 2-3 new outlets every year.

Amlani, who was also the president of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) from 2014 to 2017, says that 35 per cent of the restaurants across the country shut down during the pandemic. Impressario itself lost 6 restaurants.

While Social is already present in Chandigarh and Indore, Amlani plans to open more Social outlets in tier-2 cities.
While Social is already present in Chandigarh and Indore, Amlani plans to open more Social outlets in tier-2 cities.

"The pandemic was a tough time but we are getting back," he says. He set up two cloud kitchen brands during the pandemic – BOSS Burger and Lucknowee (Awadhi cuisine).   While BOSS Burger delivers to select locations in Mumbai, Delhi NCR, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Ranchi, and Indore, Lucknowee delivers to select locations in Mumbai, Delhi NCR, Bangalore and Pune.

"We will largely be a restaurant-led business but the cloud kitchen will definitely contribute about 20 per cent of our business going forward," says Amlani adding that cloud kitchens is a very tough business because of too many stakeholders involved. "Sometimes things are skewed one way or the other. The restaurant is a lot more democratic. The customer chooses. You can't get a customer to go somewhere else by changing the algorithm," he says. "During the pandemic of course there was no other business. Through delivery we could keep our kitchen people employed. A lot of our servers became delivery boys so we were able to keep a lot of our people." Instead of banking of third-party delivery companies such as Swiggy and Zomato, Impressario set up its own channels where customers could place orders with them directly.

Amlani says the pandemic forced them to become more efficient. "People are now being multi-skilled. We are training them in different aspects of the business." With a combination of tech and multitasking, the staffing requirement per restaurant has reduced by 25 per cent. "We will hire more people as we open more restaurants but the number of people we had per restaurant before the pandemic has gone down."

As Amlani plans the launch of one more restaurant, he smiles and says, "Our DNA is restaurants."