It was around 2013-14 when Aditi Dugar began thinking about opening a restaurant seriously. “I tend to feel stifled and boxed in quite quickly, so with Sage & Saffron we’ve always made it a point to stay flexible and keep things tailor-made to our patrons,” she shared by remembering that when she started out with Sage, she was catering to quite a niche market and unique audience; clients would come to them with great insights on what people were looking for, and through that, she realized there was definitely an untapped space for a format like Masque, a gap in the market. “Over the years, all my travels had also begun revolving around food and where we’re eating next; my husband and I were particularly taken by produce-drive restaurants. So between the data I was able to gather from existing clients and my own affinity for ingredient-focused cooking, I arrived at a point where it became fairly clear to me what kind of restaurant I wanted to put out into the world,” she pointed as today she owns one of the most creative, ingredient-based restaurant in the country. Excerpts from interview:
On Running India’s no.1 Restaurant
“It’s been an extremely exciting and rewarding journey from 2016, and I’m proud of the team for what we’ve achieved so far – there’s a long road ahead, and it feels like we’re just getting started! And while there is still a long way to go, it’s also encouraging to see more and more women entering the industry, whether in the kitchen, operations, whatever it is – and I hope that as someone already in the space, I can help open more doors for them,” added Dugar with pride.
There is no doubt that every business has some or the other issues and so does the restaurant business. “There have been challenges from day one, where even the very concept of the restaurant was constantly doubted by others – the idea that running a tasting menu-only spot could be successful here, or that a fine-dining restaurant serving Indian-inspired food was something people would respond to, was very often in question. Then the pandemic, pivoting from that tasting menu to a delivery-only model serving totally different food, plus the daily grind of running a restaurant in a city like Bombay – it never ends,” she pointed.
Aditi, you are one of the most focused, successful women restaurateurs whom I know personally. What has kept you going?
I think it’s a really exciting time to work in the industry, and that has a lot to do with what drives me – people are ready and able to push the boundaries of what we were used to. I want the world to realize that “Indian food” is not one monolith – it means a hundred things to a hundred different people, and is as nuanced as any of the ‘finest’ cuisines in the world. There is so much potential here, and that’s what keeps us inspired.
Sage & Saffron was actually the first brand the group started under (Urban Gourmet India), as a boutique catering and fine-dine company that over time grew to become an end-to-end offering that includes food, design, set up, service and so on. It’s grown from my home kitchen to a full-fledged operation, and I’ll always be especially proud of it! In August last year, they also launched TwentySeven Bakehouse as a cloud kitchen with the idea of serving high-quality breads and bakes at accessible price points. “Just last week, we opened our first proper retail storefront in Bandra, on Pali Hill, which has been super exciting. We also run the kitchens of Seesaw Café at the Jio Mall in BKC, which serves more of ‘crossroads cuisine’, and ARAKU in Bangalore, where the food has a global, innovative approach while staying keenly in line with the brand’s sustainable farming practices,” she added.
5 tips for women restaurant owners
- Follow your gut and be open to taking risks.
- Actively work towards building a strong team; recognize your strengths, and work with people who are good in areas you are not.
- Make yourself heard and occupy space in the room, but also learn to listen keenly.
- It’s okay to say no!
- Having a social support system is not a weakness; it takes a village.
I think the focus on regional foods and hyperlocal cooking will continue to increase, and that we’ll also see this midway segment between fine and casual dining grow. Menus will become shorter, more concise, with chefs focusing instead on the quality of produce and flavour. Experiential dining, popups and collaborations will also continue to grow, as consumers are on the lookout for new experiences.