• After working in the FMCG and then NGO sector, my first job as an entrepreneur was organising boat parties. I had hosted one for my sister’s wedding, and it was a hit. I then started a company in 1988, and it was hard work but a success from the word go, because no one else was offering it.
  • It was very difficult to get good sweets outside of five-star hotels, so that was the idea behind my first foray into F&B, Just Desserts, in November 1990. What worked for us was the idea of setting up in the evening at a location that had vacated the premises after using it in the day. We also added a layer of jazz, which worked really well. Over two years, we lost maybe a little money, but we learnt a lot and earned great credibility.
  • Old-timers like Rahul Akerkar, Ritu Dalmia and Andy Varma set a standard of quality products. We may not have been brilliant right away, but the success of the first few places spawned a whole new industry of bars, cafés, delis and more. Today, I doubt you would go to a five-star hotel restaurant unless your parents took you.
  • Everything I’ve learnt has been on the job. Sometime in the 1990s, I was invited to write a weekly food column for a newspaper called The Metropolis. It taught me a lot, because as a journalist, you have access to a lot of chefs, food festivals and so on. Everyone makes time for you. I got one-on-one time with Hemant Oberoi and got to sample all the new restaurants, although there weren’t that many.
  • From 2006-07, the markets were stable, so when I found three really good spaces in Delhi, I decided to do something at all three of them. Soon after, the financial crisis of September 2008 came by and the world went bust. I won’t make that mistake again.
  • I was emotionally attached to my Japanese restaurant, Ai, but it just never made money. I should have shut it down two years before I did, because when it reopened as Guppy by Ai, it was a big success. Apart from money, you also lose your bandwidth and focus if you get emotional about hard decisions.
  • A D Singh_014To me, feedback is very important. I ask my managers not to be scared; anything negative should always come to me. It’s good that people are active on social media, too. At the same time, I try to have a balanced perspective on what’s being said.
  • Because I wasn’t from the industry, I had to work harder, and that became a strength. Our products have been sharply detailed and conceptualised, and we’ve worked harder on our restaurants before they opened than anyone else. I don’t come in with a particular point of view, and that’s become my signature.
  • I’m fairly conservative, and have turned down lots of offers despite being a market leader, because I don’t have much individual wealth. I wish we had taken some risks, but then, the company may not have been so solid for all these years.
  • In the late 1990s, Sachin Tendulkar’s manager, Mark Mascarenhas, brought him over to discuss setting up a chain of sports bars together. My board wasn’t keen and didn’t make it happen. He ended up working with the Narangs and became their long-time friend. As a huge cricket and Sachin fan, that’s always been a regret for me.
  • Not a single employee can come back and say we didn’t treat them well. We are growing steadily because these kids have grown up in front of me and we understand each other. When I go to a restaurant, I tend to spot someone who has worked with us, and they treat me so well. It’s a nice feeling.
  • Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal had carte blanche to go out and do something different. I persuaded the board to start a new subsidiary company with them as partners, and they are doing a great job with Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao. We’re doing something similar with another chef, Sujan Sarkar.
  • I’m not the sort of person to seek advice or even give it to anyone. I do chat with a lot of people, who share their opinions with me, but I’m an entrepreneur who likes doing things my way.
  • It’s great to be able to be friends with the industry. That’s the best way forward. I like what Riyaaz Amlani is doing with the NRAI and building a sense of fraternity. Instead of poaching from each other AD Singh Profile picture - (1)or being competitive, it’s all ethical in the marketplace.
  • I won’t say that all my ideas are original, but by reading, looking, talking and thinking, I come up with things that work well for our market. We’re largely focussed on people with a level of taste and seeking at least a level of quality. We don’t try to dumb down our products.
  • Freshness and innovation are very important in the industry. Olive Bandra is about to turn 15 because it has adhered to these principles. Our design works, so we won’t change it for the sake of it. But we work on food, activities and concepts all the time. We’ve got our first French chef now, and we’ve also introduced jazz nights.
  • I tell youngsters that their first restaurant should be a franchise of a good brand, or that they should be a silent partner of an established person to learn from. That way, when you open your own place, there’s a much better chance of success.
  • I see the industry maturing now, with new people offering great products. Lots of us who have been around for a while will continue to drive, guide and create some gorgeous products. The support we are now getting from government and real estate is also great.