With a flurry of new ventures and upholding India’s current homegrown alcohol boom, Passcode Hospitality’s Rakshay Dhariwal is making sure 2022 is spirit-equipped

It’s no secret that the F&B sector has been one of the hardest hit industries ever since Covid-19 became a reality in our lives. With little to no respite from the government, many establishments struggled to survive and retain employees. 

Things were just turning a corner when the third wave came along like a whiplash and like many others, uncertainty once again rules. One man, however, is optimistic about the future, and has proven it by launching a bunch of different ventures over the last couple of months. 

Whether it is the new Ping’s, Saz, and PCO outlets in Mumbai located within the same compound as Living Liquidz’ shiny new store called Mansionz By Living Liquidz, or it is organising India Cocktail Week in Bengaluru and Goa in 2021 and launching Pistola Agavepura — a 100 per cent Indian agave spirit from Goa in December 2021, all of it can be traced back to one person. Rakshay Dhariwal, CEO of Passcode Hospitality.

Dhariwal has always had an entrepreneurial streak, even if it didn’t lead him directly to F&B. His last stint, in fact, was running an Ayurveda wellness business. He came to F&B exactly a decade ago when Passcode Hospitality launched in 2012, and has no plans to veer away from the space. “This is a segment I know; I understand and I love. I’m going to be an F&B entrepreneur for the next 10 years too,” Dhariwal says, his sonic booming sound intact. 

In summer of 2021, Dhariwal was celebrating the opening of Jamun in Goa, while his other property, Ping’s Bia Hoi, was already being heralded as one of the coolest dining spots in North Goa. Not content to rest on these, he also organised the India Cocktail Week (ICW) that saw some serious footfalls over two days with marquee as well as craft brands sharing space during the festival.

ICW encapsulates a lot of what makes Dhariwal tick, most of which revolves around bringing people, brands and experiences together. He says, “Generally, you have one brand doing one activation at one place with one focus. We thought there needs to be a platform where people can go and experience what different brands have to offer.” 

From established brands like Diageo with all of their spirit offerings and Bacardi to new-age brands like Maka Zai Rum and Smoke Vodka among craft brands, ICW has been a platform for each of them to find new audiences with brand ambassadors and owners often at the helm of affairs to get first-hand feedback. 

“People also get fixated on one brand, but what if there was another brand they could try and fall in love with? No one was doing anything at scale with the concept so we decided to do it,” Dhariwal adds. 

With ICW in Delhi, Bengaluru (twice over) and Goa, the team had plans to organise back-to-back festivals in Hyderabad in January this year and in Goa in February, before the third wave derailed those plans. 

Even so, Dhariwal has his hands full with the launch of his properties in Mumbai. Unlike most others who start with a single property, Dhariwal has launched three properties — Saz, PCO, and Ping’s — in the same vicinity. 

“The three properties complement each other quite well. I started Saz because I did not find a good, laidback coffee place in the Kamala Mills compound in Lower Parel. If you look at F&B, consumers have evolved to a great extent, and having three outlets ensures that people get exactly what they want once they come in,” he explains. 

Pass Code Hospitality is known for these properties in other cities as well, be it Delhi, Gurugram, Kolkata, or Goa. Having multi-city brands is a whole new level of sass and conviction, but Dhariwal understands the risks, and says that he’s been looking to launch in Mumbai for almost a decade now. 

The current location is where he’s been trying to open with a group of investors who he says are dear friends now. However, at a point, there was a deal with a renowned textile group in the complex that fell through, along with Dhariwal’s plans to launch in Mumbai. 

When Living Liquidz group decided to open Mansionz, their premium offline liquor store in the same compound, Dhariwal decided to get in once again, and succeeded this time. And when it comes to timing, Dhariwal has another ace up his sleeve in the form of Pistola Agavepura, a 100 per cent Indian agave for the local market. 

Trend reports in the global alcohol industry, led by American alcohol e-commerce site Drizly, project tequila to be the spirit of choice in 2022, with celebrity backing in the form of names like Dwayne Johnson, Kendall Jenner, and even Elon Musk joining in the craze. This has caused many countries to order huge amounts of tequila for their patrons, but supply chain issues related to Covid-19 and the fact that tequila prices have shot through the roof in recent times means that this is now the right time to bring in agave spirits for a thirsty audience. Dhariwal says, “Sales of mezcal (another spirit made with agave plant) abroad grew by 600 per cent in 2020 alone. That is insane.”

Pistola could not have chosen a better time to launch. The 100 per cent aged agave spirit, called Maya Pistola Agavepura and Pistola in short, is a Reposado (or rested) agave spirit that is typically used to mix cocktails with. Made with Agave Americana plant that grows in the Deccan Plateau, Dhariwal says he took a lot of learnings from Desmondji, another 100 per cent Indian agave brand, before launching Pistola. Dhariwal adds that he’s been working on Pistola since the pandemic began, and he began to see a rise in demand for tequila drinks. 

Initially, Dhariwal planned to call his spirit Mezquita, since he uses agave that is used to make mezcal, but instead, it is processed to make tequila. However, mezcal and tequila both have GI tags that cannot be used in any other region in the world except certain places in Mexico. There are plans to launch an añejo version (agave spirit that has been rested for anywhere between one to three years) by May 2022 and bring Pistola to markets like Delhi and Mumbai in the next couple of months.  

While the country currently tries to fend off the third Covid-19 wave, Dhariwal is excited about his plans for 2022. “At the end of the day, India is the biggest liquor market in the world. People today want something premium, craft and Indian and I am confident Pistola will do well in the near future. I am also hoping to open up more restaurants in cities like Hyderabad, and expand further in Mumbai, and wish to host India Cocktail Week in Delhi and Mumbai before the year ends,” Dhariwal reveals.

To better times and better spirits.