A 20-year-long non-stop journey can leave anybody exhausted. But ask him if he’s fatigued and 52-year-old restaurateur Anjan Chatterjee immediately says, “Fatigued? Not really, just excited.” He has every reason to be excited. After all, he’s floating the IPO of his Speciality Restaurants which he founded in 1994 and which also owns Mainland China, the largest chain of fine dining Chinese restaurants in India.
When we meet him at The Park hotel in Kolkata, Chatterjee is wearing a white linen shirt with a beige blazer over blue denims — a contrast which is visible even in his range of restaurants. If he’s got Mainland China under his belt, he also has Oh! Calcutta, Sigree, Machan, Just Biryani, Mostly Kebabs, and Fame and Grill. All together Chatterjee runs 82 restaurants across India. Barely three years ago, the number stood at 52. The pace of growth has been phenomenal. But then so has Chatterjee’s career graph. When he started out, his budget was Rs 1.5 lakh. And his first restaurant was ‘Only Fish’ in Mumbai. Today, fish is only one of the things his restaurants specialise in. As for his Speciality Group of Restaurants, it’s now valued at Rs 200 crore.
For this important occasion, Chatterjee has his favourite chingri macher malaikari on the menu. “Being in the business of food, one has to constantly elevate the guest’s experience,” he says. It’s an art he learnt from his father, agricultural scientist Snehomoy Chatterjee who would often invite European guests home and treat them to muri ghonto, a Bengali dry curry made from the fish’s head.
With the market as volatile as it is now, how wise was it to go public? Chatterjee brushes aside the cynicism saying, “Dar ke aage jeet hai (beyond fear lies victory)”. “You can never really predict the market, but if you are confident about your brand and its services, people will put their trust in you.”
Chatterjee says the degree in hotel management from Indian Institute of Hotel Management and later a degree in marketing from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies introduced him to the wonders of “five-star food services at a non-five-star price”. A stint with Taj Hotels and later in advertising with the Anandabazar Patrika further polished his keen business sense.
Maintaining goodwill is one aspect Chatterjee is very hands-on about. Through a central monitoring system in his office in Mumbai he coordinates with the outlets spread across the country. “I’m very particular about customer feedback,” he says. “Every day I need to check how many customers went dissatisfied and try to rectify the faults.” Selecting the chefs for his restaurants is another task Chatterjee personally monitors. “You don’t get great chefs in catering colleges, so I go to China.”
Speciality Restaurants is now looking to spread out to Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. However, but for a Mainland China outlet in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the company has halted its international plans due to the economic crisis. But Chatterjee is hopeful of taking Mainland China’s outlets to US and UK. “You cannot plan anything ahead in time, but so far we are blessed to have had a successful journey with the grace of god,” he says pointing to the sacred thread on his right wrist. The day he floated his IPO, Chatterjee and his chief financial officer performed puja at the Mahalakshmi Mandir in Mumbai.
Being India’s leading restaurateur also means being an absentee husband and an absentee father. “I have a great family. My wife, Suchandra, has taken up the sole task of raising our daughter, Arshita, and son, Avik,” says Chatterjee. “Suchandra has stood by me from the days of ‘Only fish’ when I gave her Rs 2,000 to do up its interiors. Today, she heads Speciality Restaurants’ corporate designing team.”
Like their father, the children are foodies. The Chatterjee kitchen often turns into a laboratory where the family puts its culinary skills to test. “I might not be a good chef,” says Chatterjee, “but sure am a good cook.”