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Fusing passion with market wisdom

Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 11:00 Hrs  [IST]

Vineet Wadhwa, Chairman & MD, VW Cuisines Pvt. Ltd., is a seasoned restaurateur who passionately built up Fio, a F&B brand to reckon with in National Capital’s hospitality space. As Fio Country Kitchen & Bar and Fio Cookhouse & Bar has made its strong mark in the market, Wadhwa is currently exploring expansion into smaller format premium casual dining brand with pan-India ambition. In a tête-à-tête with P Krishna Kumar, Wadhwa spoke on wide ranging issues related to the F&B business and industry.

When he took over a conventionally-run ‘Dhaba’ at the Garden of Five Senses in Delhi in 2009, Wadhwa had no idea as to what to do with the space. Despite his years of experience in the food business, from consulting under best known F&B personalities like Ajit Haksar of ITC, to his own background of bringing in and establishing popular fast food brand, Wimpy’s, in India, Wadhwa had difficulty in formalising a workable concept for the place. But the setting of the place charmed him. “It’s the place that inspired me to create a restaurant around fresh, green and organic concept. I have been a man with green fingers, loved farming herbs and spices,” he said.

In sync with the country-side villa setting of the place that too within a public garden, Wadhwa decided to work around cuisines which evolved around country-side with similar history and heritage. Thus he zeroed in on Indian and Italian food; both evolved in the country-side and have a family-orientation. “Fio Country Kitchen & Bar is practically two restaurants under one roof. We have two separate kitchens and separate team for Indian and Italian. Because the place was so large, we have to have more than one cuisine,” he said.

When he launched his second venture at Epicuria in Nehru Place some four years ago, which had an entirely different setting amidst a concrete “urban jungle”, he tried to carry the “Green” story to the extent possible. “At Fio Cookhouse & Bar, we didn’t have space to grow our own herbs. But we tried to incorporate the green warmth and interior characters here as well,” he said. At Fio Cookhouse, he tried to excite customers with chic menu, which immediately caught the fancy of urban diners and party animals. “When food is the drool and the draw, people opt Fio Cookhouse over Fio Country Kitchen, which is more experiential dining,” says Wadhwa.

Cautious but positive
Unlike many new age restaurateurs, Wadhwa has been quite cautious in his every step, conceiving and converting every venture and creating success stories. “Now, I have the confidence to move further,” he said when asked about his future expansion plans. He is on the anvil of launching an innovative restaurant format, which would be relatively smaller and based on “singular European” cuisine. “The new brand will have full-day menu with alcohol,” he said. With a request not to

make public the new brand, Wadhwa said that he would be looking at Joint Venture partners to take the new brand across metros and Tier I cities in India. He will be launching two outlets of the new brand in WorldMark Aerocity and in a premium South Delhi Mall with a JV partner soon. “We have delayed the opening little bit for the liquor licence to open up,” he said. “Right now, we are looking for a Master Investor to come on board to take the brand forward,” he added.

Even for Fio, Wadhwa is currently mulling franchisee partners outside of Delhi NCR. A franchisee partner is already on board for Kolkata, he said. Mumbai and Hyderabad are in the radar for similar expansion. The idea is to launch four different models first and present the business model for interested investors, he informed.

About new age entrepreneurs
While Wadhwa is appreciative about the growth that is happening in the food service business with the entry of new entrepreneurs, he is skeptical about the way standards of quality, hygiene, etc., are compromised just for the sake of making the place “fun and funky” and many such places are stressing high on alcohol rather than creating wholesome dining experience. “There is lot of stress on alcohol and events at many places,” he alerted. “At Fio, food comes first, alcohol is secondary. Our food is absolutely at par with any fine dining restaurant. Food and bar areas are seamlessly divided,” he said.

Govt. policies
Wadhwa was unsparing when asked about the government policies governing the food service industry. He questioned the rationale of not issuing fresh excise licences for restaurants in Delhi. “They talk something and do something else. Government understands neither tourism nor hospitality,” he said.

Not very much in favour of extending the bar timing, Wadhwa said that the industry can do a lot of social contribution in transforming the otherwise neglected cityscape and make it more vibrant. “Long neglected stretches should be given to corporate and restaurateurs. We can maintain and convert those places as happening places.”

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