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Cadbury heir back to business in India

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

ENTERPRISE: has begun his India innings investing in the restaurant business.

Though his family name is omniscient in India, (yup, of the chocolates and tonic water fame) had never been to the country till November last year.

Less than a year later, the first of the businesses into which he’s invested — restaurateur AD Singh’s high-wattage Japanese restaurant Ai, which opened in New Delhi on Wednesday — brought some of the Cadbury fortune back into the country.

The Cadbury family had long quit the business that still bears their name, but even so wanted to establish himself apart from his father Peter Cadbury and businesswoman mother Jennifer dAbo’s interests, and straight out of school, entered the nightclub business in London.

A few years later, with most of his contemporaries still in business school, he’d established Longshot, nurturing leisure and real estate across the city.

Thirteen years later, last July, Cadbury sold it all — “bars, restaurants, health clubs, property” — because “everything was getting too expensive”.

Having made a tidy sum from it, Cadbury and long-time partner decided to look around once more when the entrepreneurial bug stirred, and decided that among the BRIC economies, India was “most exciting and incredibly welcoming”. A meeting with Olive’s Singh, and they decided to partner in the new venture.

What might have spurred Cadbury on was his Indian wife Divia, daughter of businessman Gulu Lalvani and restaurant-entrepreneur in her own right (she launched, and then sold, award-winning Japanese restaurant Zuma in London) — there were simply too many coincidences to ignore.

“My grandfather and great-grandfather did a lot of business here,” he smiled over a mojito at Ai, “I felt like I’d come home in India.”

On this, his fourth but very brief trip, he said he’d like to relive his London experience with bars, restaurants, health clubs, hotels and the property business in India. “I see it as the most exciting emerging economy in the world,” he said.

And added, “The sun is setting on the dominance of the Western economies and rising on the Eastern economies. This is where a lot of opportunities lie. I’m not here as a short-term investor, but will take a long-term, 10-15 year view on investments in India.”

For now, Cadbury is willing to “mentally stake £1 million sterling” in the country, taking it “one step at a time”, though with adequate private equity funding, he’s not averse to spending more when the opportunity presents itself.

Meanwhile, Divia Cadbury, who sold Zuma at its peak of 400 covers daily plus packed meals, has her hands full with a herbal tea business (which she blends in Bavaria, Germany), the Royal Marina in Phuket, Thailand, and consulting with restaurants in London. Her love for Japanese food, she says, came about because her mother had grown up in Hawaii. “My thesis in business school,” she says, “was on a Japanese restaurant business.”

Not averse to spending more time in India, perhaps even living here, the Cadburys are focused on investing in “exploding lifestyle spending” in the country – and particularly on the “evolution and revolution in the food business”, as Joel Cadbury says it. Proving that you can have your maki and eat it too.

First Published: Fri, September 05 2008. 00:00 IST