AD Singh talks about how he started out, his experiences as a restaurateur, his chain of restaurants and much more.
A life altering moment often acts as a catalyst for deciding a career path and that’s how AD Singh stumbled into becoming an entrepreneur. Being a family man he was very dependent on his family’s opinion and support.
Thus, when he thought of moving out of the corporate world and asked for a meeting, his family got rather apprehensive because he was dating a girl they didn’t approve of. “They thought that I wanted to marry her” he recalls. However, when it turned out that all he wanted was to explore a new career path, they were so relieved that they gave him their full support. That’s when his journey really began.
AD’s foray into the Food and Beverages industry started with a very niche concept (like all his others brands) called ‘Just Desserts’. When quizzed about how it came to be, he says, “I had a really bad sweet tooth and in those days, there was no place where you could get decent desserts. You could buy a cake at 200-300 from these lovely Parsi ladies but you didn’t have an option to buy a slice. Thus, I came up with a cafe for desserts and coffee and clubbed it with some jazz”.
Undoubtedly, the place was an instant hit and a prominent magazine dubbed it as the phenomenon of the 90s – the concept sounds amazing even today.
For somebody with no exposure to the food and beverage industry, it was a great boost and there was no looking back thereafter.
Just desserts had a successful run for a few years making way for something bigger. Hence, Olive Bar & Kitchen was born in the year 2000 and it quickly transcended into one of the most iconic standalone restaurants the country had witnessed. AD Singh also recounts this as his biggest achievement i.e. being amongst a few pioneers who opened up the world of standalone restaurants for generations to come.
Today, after being in the industry for almost 27 years, Singh has not just created luxury fine dining establishments but has also developed a keen eye on the evolving market trends and created many concept-based restaurants.
He didn’t shy away from proffering into the arena of casual and relaxed establishments with ventures such as Guppy, Ek Bar, Soda Bottle Opener Wala, to name a few.
His thought behind these ventures was to use strong creation and conceptualisation and try to bring the same excellence and quality, which has become synonymous with his brands, and offer it to a wider audience in an affordable as well as approachable way.
This was the thought which actually defined the company’s decision of going forward with brands like SodaBottleOpenerWala, Ek Bar, Fatty Bao, Guppy etc.
Apart from these, Singh has also collaborated with Chefs and created a separate wing under the Olive group such as Monkey Bar with Chefs Manu and Chetan Rampal and Ek Bar with Chef Sujan.
His thought behind this onset goes thus, “Essentially these collaborations have helped us grow faster as a company and have created a great platform for some of our best people to build both wealth and an accelerated future”.
But it hasn’t been a smooth sail for him throughout. When we asked him about his biggest setback, he talked about AI, a contemporary Japanese restaurant which he had dearly loved but had lost a lot of money on. “It was beautiful and had some fanatical followers but was too big and we spent too much on it” he states.
Singh’s latest offering to Delhi is an authentic Goan beach shack themed restaurant – Lady Baga. When asked about the idea behind this, he replied, “Goa is so interesting; I felt we could create a good strong story which could resonate nationally. Then my wife (Sabina Singh) created a fun name and together with our design team we envisioned the space as Goa in the old days….which for me used to be a time and space of great freedom, very much like the Sixties in America — hippies, liberty, great music, a sense that anything was possible. So, that was how I rooted this vision”.
Singh’s journey has been an inspiring and ever evolving one. The Olive group took a new turn with equity funding coming in the company almost nine years ago. This enhanced the long-term value manifolds and helped to create the brands step by step. With almost 30 restaurants in his kitty, he now plans to broaden the horizon by taking the Olive brand across the country and also overseas. So what does he foresee for the Indian restaurant industry?
“In India we are already bringing inspired stories through our restaurants, something that we are very proud of. Ek Bar, SodaBottleOpenerWala and Lady Baga are fine examples of the same,” he says.
Which is the best restaurant you’ve eaten at?
In India, La Plage in Goa is one of the best restaurants in the country. It is owned by the same group that gave us Le Restaurant Franchise and both of these have been amongst the best restaurants forever.
Food-wise, what’s the one thing that your hometown Mumbai has over Delhi, and one thing that Delhi has over Mumbai?
Breach Candy Club – The club is like a little oasis in Bombay; one could spend their whole life just sitting there. I tend to hold many of my internal meetings there. Sitting there is like sitting in Goa, but just one mile away from my home. I can work there all day long without getting tired. There is truly no other spot in Bombay like Breach Candy Club.
In Delhi, I like the Mehrauli area where sitting in any of the cafes and simply looking at the stunning views of Qutub Minar is joyous. Every season and time of the day is different there. It is a place that never ceases to wow me.
What are the major differences between the eating habits of Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai?
Bombay audience is the most laidback, very easy-going. Delhi has a very sophisticated audience. Bangalore is perhaps the most serious about food of all the cities we are in.
Who’s in-charge of the kitchen at home?
I stay out of the kitchen!
While Indian cuisine has and continues to make a huge impact on the world culinary scene, where do you think we lack?
Just in exposure. It will come.
How will GST affect your business?
It won’t. In fact, we are big supporters of the Govt. effort to widen the tax range and bring the unorganised sector on to the same plate as ours.
Pick a restaurant trend in India you’re most excited about?
I love that customers are getting more and more excited about regional cuisines.
Your restaurants have been trendsetters for almost a decade, leading to a sound reputation, credibility and goodwill. But are there any challenges you face in sustaining quality?
Logistics and availability of good seasonal produce.
According to you, which Indian City has the best street food?
Is there a set recipe for being a successful restaurateur? If yes, then what?
Success to me is keeping all those who depend on me happy.
One element that separates Olive from other establishments is its impeccable service and the service staff. Who handpicks them for you?
Our senior teams
How do you manage so many different ventures at the same time?
We have been fortunate to have some great people with us.
Do you eat out at your competitor’s restaurants? Which one is your favourite?
I used to eat at Indigo Deli all the time for many years.
What aspect of your business keeps you awake at night?
Ensuring the interest of my investors.
If you were to live only for a day, what would be your last meal?
Home cooked food.
What is the strangest food you’ve eaten?
A Molecular meal at a new London restaurant, full of foam where everything ended up wet.
There is an old saying, if you hate someone ask them to open a restaurant. Do you agree with this saying?
Yes, ha ha!
What’s your secret behind keeping customers coming in?
I put addictive’s in their food.
What is the one thing that you’d want your bouquet of restaurants to be known for?
How do you collect customers’ feedback, reviews and respond to them?
Our team is always all ears for customer complaints or suggestions. We also have feedback forms which we request customers to fill post meals.
Which place in your opinion serves the best coffee from around the world?
The new Roasterie that are opening up nationally.
In what ratio would you lay emphasis on Quality of Food and Decor of a restaurant for a great dining experience?
- Birthday: 3rd November
- Sun Sign: Scorpio
- You are happiest when: Playing with my daughter, Zoe
- One cuisine you feel is overrated: Gourmet Mexican
- Favourite fruit: Coconut
- Favourite drink: Water
- Favourite International cuisine: Japanese
- Favourite Indian dish: Road-side dosa
- Favourite dessert: A great coffee ice- cream