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Tote top secret

Ten years since Indigo rewrote the rules, Rahul Akerkar readies his hush-hush new venture—Tote.

Anamika Butalia | Print Edition: April 5, 2009

Tote is set to be one of Mumbai's biggest lounges
Mumbai

Rahul’s big secret
Ten years since Indigo rewrote the rules, Rahul Akerkar readies his hush-hush new venture—Tote.

The weekend has gone by and Rahul Akerkar, the man who brought us Indigo, is back at the Royal Western Indian Turf Club’s Tote building at the Mahalaxmi Race Course, to see how his newest venture is coming along. It’s called Tote, and it’s huge, particularly for a city like Mumbai—an incredible 25,000 square feet with an open area, a veranda and two floors. And it’s a secret. Akerkar has shown us the plans, but not given them to us to publish. We asked to photograph the premises but he said, no, only the outside. No one can see Tote until the day it opens in mid-April.

Why the fuss? Because there’s a hint of controversy surrounding the green turf of Mahalaxmi. When Tote opens, it will go head to head with the old favourite Gallops at the Race Course and with former partner A.D. Singh’s Olive at the Amateur Riders Club. Tote was supposed to open in December 2008, but due to undisclosed reasons, it has been postponed to mid-April. But Akerkar’s not worried. He loves a gamble.

“I retained the name of the building for its connection to the races at the Turf Club,” says Akerkar. “And also because I, too, have gambled in my life.” The Tote building is where bets on horse races were calculated until a few years ago. Soon, it will house the Mumbai gourmet world’s biggest secret.

Rahul Akerkar
Akerkar’s gambles have a habit of paying off. Five years ago, the club authorities floated a tender for a 90,000 sq. ft area to be turned into a dining experience. The tender had been out for weeks but Rahul Akerkar and his wife Malini heard about it from friends only five days before the closing. They started working on their bid at once. And four days, 64 pages and a presentation later, the Akerkars won the deal surpassing 26 other bids.

Soon after, the authorities revised their plan and allotted a final area of 25,000 sq. ft. More regulations followed, which tested the duo’s perseverance, but here they are—restoration work began on the premises about a year ago, and the restaurant is set to open.

“People will be surprised,” says Akerkar, “it’s nothing like Indigo.” Instead of the functional and timeless interiors of his other properties, Tote has a modern, industrial feel, courtesy of designer Kapil Gupta of Blue Frog fame. Stainless steel is used for the arches in the banquet area, that can accommodate 800, as well as for bar tops in Akerkar’s first-ever bar. And this is the other surprise— it’s the first time that the Akerkars have set up a separate bar. The first floor is multi-levelled with the bar occupying the length of the area with bar stools. The two mezzanine levels have booths to seat 60, with 100 standing. No doubt, it will be competing for “hippest lounge in the city”.

As for the restaurant, there are dining sections—formal, veranda and lounge, and an outdoor seating area, fenced in by 100-year-old tropical rain trees. As far as the menu is concerned, Akerkar says: “Tote will offer a fine dining experience by way of a robust, hearty meal that brings in modern American and European food. Grills, shanks, steaks, the works.” He’ll fly his beef in from Australia, his scallops and fish from Chile, and the lamb will come straight from New Delhi. A meal for two, including wine, will be around Rs 4,000.

Food was always Akerkar’s first love—he’s a chef-restaurateur, rather than a straight businessman. He first decided to follow his passion while in the US, working part-time in restaurants to help fund a Biochemical Engineering course. When he returned to Mumbai in 1989, he plunged into catering, cooking for over 300 guests in his kitchen at home. The first restaurant was “Just Desserts” in 1990, which he launched with A.D. Singh. Then came “Under the Over”, during which time he met Malini. They built the catering business, Moveable Feast, before managing Protima Bedi’s Bangalore tourist retreat, Kuteeram in 1992, for a short while.

When he started Indigo at Colaba in 1999 at a cost of Rs 4 crore—one of the biggest gambles of his life—his friends admired his guts, but weren’t sure whether it would work. Then Indigo transformed the restaurant scene in Mumbai. “Those from the hotel industry visited and analysed what it was that made the restaurant work,” says Akerkar with a grin. Much has changed since then. Today, businesses find funds more easily and processes are far more structured. For Akerkar, this means more business. First came Indigo Deli in Colaba, then Indigo in Andheri and later in 2009, he intends to open Indigo in Delhi.

But before all that, on the eve of his 50th birthday—the first Sunday of April—Akerkar will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of Indigo in Colaba. “My need to reinvent myself has brought me this far. I can’t wait for my 50th birthday! The only gift I want this year is feedback on Tote.”

Tote will be opening in the middle of April at Tote Building, RWITC, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Keshavrao Pandye Marg, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai

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