The queues outside Big Chill are long indeed, getting a table could easily mean a half an hour wait, usually at any time in the day. Since it started three years ago, business has trebled.
Fawzias is hardly a housewife-with-a-dream-to-rake-it-in-story. For eight years, she ran an Asian womens refuge in the UK. To take a break, she went on a holiday to Rwanda in Africa, where she met Aseem Grover, who was there on deputation from the Indian Army. Cupid went to work immediately and soon the two were married. Shortly after that, they were forced to live apart for three years, with Aseem getting an army posting in Dehradun.
Thats when the idea came to FawziaWhy not work on something together and, therefore, live together, rather than live apart after marriage So Big Chill was bornwith some advice from Fauzias cousin who had set up an ice-cream cafe in London.
Between Aseem and Fawzia, they sank in Rs 10 lakh and found a place to rent in New Delhis East of Kailash area. But they knew little about business matters. The first lesson was Patience: patience to deal with all kinds of government officials whose answer to any request was always: kal aana.
Fawzia says: Had it not been for Aseem, we would not have been able to cross these hurdles, because I have a nasty temper. I once threw out a policeman who was being difficult about the municipal corporation papers.
One way to ensure many customers is to locate yourself in a market complex. But if you want people who specifically want to eat at your restaurant then it is better to be away from the markets. Let them see it as a special outing.
They also needed a fridge and oven which they bought second-hand from a hotelier who was closing shop. Now they were rolling... The two of them took turns as cook, assistant, waiter, cleaner and cashier. If people asked them for a feasibility report on Big Chill, the couple drew a blank. They simply hadnt thought of drawing one up. Aseem says: We never made projections about the future and took it one step at a time. The most sensible thing we did was to spend on just the basics to begin with.
And every time they made some money, they would either invest in a kitchen counter, a second stove or a freezer. The mistake people make is they make huge investments right at the start, but are not able to get enough returns to break even after that, says Fawzia. Incidentally, they were making enough money by the end of two months to be able to pay the rent for the premises and salaries to their kitchen staff.
Business kept growing. Mostly it grew by word-of-mouth since they did no real publicity at all. And soon Fawzia was back in the kitchen, this time her palette consisting of three flavours she lovedolive oil, lemon and garlic.
The result was an entirely new range of Mediterranean pastas and salads with an authentic homemade taste. She says: If something on the menu is over by early evening, we just tell our customers it is over. Id rather give them 100 per cent of the recipe with all the authentic ingredients or nothing at all. Perhaps thats what reputation is all about.
Nor did they want the usual uniformed waiters serving their clients either. Their first waiter was one of their first customers! His deal was he would work from 8 pm to 11 pm and get a Colombian Mocha Shake free. The arrangement clicked and he soon worked full time. Then he roped in his friends too most of who were straight out of college. They were young, flexible and could chat with customers about things other than what was on the menu. This gave Big Chill a young, happy buzz.
Fawzia and Aseem added another chapter to their Big Chill story when they recently opened an outlet in the Khan Market shopping area as well. It was an instant success.
Their main kitchen continues to be at East of Kailash, but a lot of what they serve is freshly cooked on order. People are always asking them if they plan to now open a Big Chill chain but Aseem is emphatic: Not yet. We started off thinking this will be a family-run, roadside cafe. We never dreamt that we would grow the way we did. I dont think we can think of a chain of restaurants yet because we just wont be able to supervise them. For now, they are happy to just chill.