Mocha, Salt Water, Stone Water, Smoke House Deli, Social. How do you manage to crack so many of the “It” places? How do you figure, that this is what’s going to work?
I approach restaurants with how it makes one feel. For me a restaurant idea really stems from how I want my customers to feel and then you build everything around it. So for example at some places you go to feel elegant and sophisticated. Then you have to sit up and you have a table and you have a nice long fork and you have a nice long knife and you drink your tea like that with your pinky up. Some places you go to feel very urban, you know suave so of course you want to sink in. You don’t want to sit forward with your hands on the table, you want to lean back and put your feet up. Some places you go because you want to see boys and you want to see girls and some places you go where you just want to be in your flip flops and your shorts, jhalla and you wanna just knock back some beers and not be molested.
You know there’s always a mood to a place and that’s what I always try and figure out, the mood.
I always start with music first, for me that’s a very important part. Whenever I am giving my designer a brief, I always put some music on and I am like, ‘this is the kind of music that’s going to play there’. Del Italia was very romantic and it was old school and charming and Mocha was crazy, everything around you was engineered to start up a conversation. Salt Water Grill for me was Goa. With Social mostly it’s the fact that we found the properties that way and how little can we intervene. Like we don’t want to throw plaster and cement and POP then lambi patti then one more coat of paint, it’s too much work. Deewar aise hai na, theek hai, light maaro (The wall’s like this, fine just throw some light). It’s a little bit of a shortcut.
Watch Riyaaz talk about the difference between Gen Xers and Millennials and how Social came to be more than a restaurant?
You are like this Byculla boy who’s made it big. I read this thing where you said that you want to take a Social everywhere from like Nallasopara to Dongri. So do you think it comes from where you come from that you want to be open to everyone?
When I was a Byculla boy I was in St. Mary’s school, which is a nice little school, it was fine. When I went to HR college for the first time ever I was discriminated based on where I was from. People were discriminated based on what they were wearing, what brands and I never really figured that out. I was like, ‘dude either you are cool or you’re not’. At first I was surprised and then I was amused and then I was angry. I mean I’m communicating with you and I think I am cooler than you are but you still are thumbing up your nose at me. For the longest time I think that was a real problem, people were like, ‘the crowd over there is dirty’. What do you mean crowd over there is dirty? This is your city, you are from here, these are your people, face it you know. I was always a little surprised that there was this kind of, ‘we only hang out with Cuffe Parade types or only Peddar Road or Breach Candy and it was all of that shit’. But now I think that’s really changing. A week ago we had this guy Divine perform at antiSocial, for me it was like a big validation. Because there were these kids from Dharavi, who were really cool by the way, they were dressed really well and they were B-boying and they were skateboarding and there were graffiti artists and they were doing all these cool shit and all these Bandra people who couldn’t ever get on a skateboard without falling on their face you know? They were still wearing their dirty T-shirts and their jhalla flip flops while the dharavi boys were like chumma dressed to the T. So for me it was amazing.
You have to party and you have to democratize the party and it has to be made for everyone. India will truly come into it’s own if there’s this kind of cross-pollination, I think.
Sitting in the audience there was Madhuri Dixit with her husband, Dr. Nene listening to Divine and there was Jakarta’s richest man and all these big shots and all these kids from Dharavi and the cool Bandra people and it was amazing that there’s this kind of all embracing scene, which was amazing to me.
You don’t mince your words when talking about critics or your opinion on service charge so has that gotten you into trouble?
Contrary to what you think, I do watch what I say. I’m not really as outspoken as I’d say Vishal Dadlani is, you know.
But I think, sometimes I catch myself not speaking my mind and I do really get annoyed with myself. What am I afraid of and do you then succumb to this paranoia, this environment of fear that is carefully being engineered around you?
I don’t have an opinion on everything but some issues that I do feel strongly about I decide that it’s time to take a stand and speak up, specially for things which are dear to me. People who work in the restaurant business are my heroes. I work in the restaurant industry but I don’t work in a restaurant and it’s really hard work. I have put Fitbits on my guys and they are doing 15 Km a day, it’s crazy. They are on their feet for eight to nine hours and if you think front of the house is bad you should try the kitchen because temperatures in a Delhi kitchen go 55˚C . You’re standing in front of a stove, it’s a high-pressure environment, people are screaming, you’re trying to serve 15 different tables at the same time, it’s an extremely hard business. You get very little pay because in India you want to see lots of people. If I look up and I don’t make eye contact with a staff I think yaar service theek nahi hai (man, the service is not good). It’s not about how friendly or knowledgeable the service is. And for some reason I think when people they go to a restaurant they don’t want service, they want servants. You see all these foodie groups on Facebook where they say, ‘those guys need to be taught a lesson in humility, who do they think they are? They don’t understand customer service, customer is always right!’ They expect almost a form of servility but at the same time by the same token of exchange they will not look at the host in the eye, they will forget to say please and thank you, they will snap their fingers at them to call them, and you know occasionally they will download all their frustration because in their head now they are bada saab (the big boss) and they can give it off to this you know low caste person in a sense.
So when a guy is going through so much shit and you try and take away the one thing that is giving him some money then I’m going to get pissed, no matter what government it is, I have the right to charge service charge and if you don’t like it go somewhere else but I’m not giving up that right, not for my people.
What do you think is the most over rated restaurant right now?
(laughs) Nope, pass. I’m the President of the restaurant association, hello!
Who is one person you’d love to see at social?
It’s a tough one, never really thought of that. Mahatma Gandhi. That’ll be kind of freaky no?
Do you want a Michelin star or 100 more socials?
100 more Socials any day. Humne izzat bahut kamai hai abhi paise bhi kama le (We’ve earned enough respect, let’s earn some money now)
Where do you buy your shoes from?
A place called Pedro. Online. PEDRO, sirf naam hi kaafi hai (the name is enough)
What is the one place you’d never open Social at?
Umm.. maybe Cuffe Parade.
Give us three millennial terms
Goals. Dope. Fuck that shit.