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Pune cafe entrepreneur, almost bankrupted by pandemic, now opens another restaurant

Chef Sarvesh Jadhav could have hung up his apron. Instead, he has tapped into the opportunities of a market that is beginning to open up.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Pune |
Updated: November 8, 2021 3:16:45 pm
The Reeka Cafehouse.

In the third week of March 2020, the kitchen and dining areas at Austin 40 Cafehouse on Bhandarkar Road were running smoothly. “All of a sudden, we got to know that there would be a lockdown. As a five-year-old startup, our problem was that there was nothing we could do. In the restaurant business, things became very bad. At one time, I had no money in my account to cover the salaries of my staff and pending bills. It was the biggest pinch I faced,” says chef Sarvesh Jadhav, who co-founded the eatery with chef Krunal Ghodke.

On November 1, however, Jadhav opened his second restaurant on Paud Road, Kothrud, called Reeka Cafehouse, perfectly timed to tap into the Diwali celebrations and the winter festivities.

The opening of a hip, new restaurant becomes significant because a week ago, the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) had announced that the restaurant sector contracted by 53 per cent due to the pandemic. More than a quarter of food business operators shut down permanently, leading to almost 2.4 million people losing their jobs.

“As the entire sector struggled, I rallied my team and the people around me. They became my biggest support. Very slowly, things started to come together after the second lockdown. When the opportunity came to open another restaurant, we decided to do it. As I see it, the market is ripe with opportunities at present and we need to take a leap of faith,” says Jadhav.

On November 1, chef Sarvesh Jadhav opened his second restaurant in Kothrud, perfectly timed to tap into the Diwali celebrations and the winter festivities.

Reeka Cafehouse, which required an investment of a few lakh rupees, is a collaboration between Austin 40 Cafehouse and the business house Kulkarni’s, and is managed by the former. In keeping with the mood of a sector that has been badly impacted by the pandemic, Reeka Cafehouse upholds the ethos of “creativity over ostentation”.

The decor emphasises “best out of waste material” in its use of old ceramic decor, household utensils and open kitchen, among others. “We spend a lot on keeping the space clean and hygienic as well as on lights. We have not used up all the money. Every few months, after understanding the dynamics of the place, we will make further investments,” he says.

Reeka Cafehouse is following the Austin 40 Cafehouse revenue model, where a strong client base has been built through word-of-mouth publicity. The menu belongs to the Indo-Western palate with pasta, pizza and other international dishes rooted in the palate of the region. In January, for instance, it is full of Sankrant food. Austin 40 Cafehouse is always packed. It is a popular venue for birthday parties and baby showers as well as engagements and weddings.

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“We might not make a lot of money immediately as one cannot expect business to give you returns in a month. If a restaurant business has to survive in the new normal — where people are careful about eating out due to salary cuts and health concerns — we need to build trust. Food is something that goes directly into the body, so the taste and the vibe of the place will matter more than before. At Austin and Reeka Cafehouse, we make sure that people like the food they eat,” says Jadhav.

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