Biting big

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Updated: March 15, 2015 1:15:06 AM

Maintaining quality and achieving fast-paced growth can be a tough balancing act in the business of food. Rohit Aggarwal of Lite Bite Foods tells us how to walk the tightrope

AS RESTAURATEUR Rohit Aggarwal shows us around the basement of his office, which is assembly-line production for all his Delhi-NCR outlets, he notices a hot plate in one corner that is lying unused. He immediately asks his manager about it. This is pretty much the philosophy behind food and beverage retail company Lite Bite Foods (LBF), of which he is director. Nothing goes waste and nothing and nobody stands idle.

In fact, the day we meet him, it’s audit time for the company. From poking in fridges, dissecting menus, having chefs churning up new dishes to replace slow-selling ones, to even questioning the kind of napkins and toothpicks placed on tables, everything at LBF, promoted by Dabur scion Amit Burman, is evaluated for maximum output and minimum cost. Aggarwal is blatant about it. “The bottomline for us is Ebidta,” he says.

This focus on margins is perhaps what explains the company’s amoebic progress. From restaurants offering myriad cuisines to bakeries, gastropubs, catering, presence in malls, airports, metro stations, corporate hubs and even global expansion, virtually every food concept that exists has been explored by the company. Aggarwal tells us he is probing food trucks and a Lebanese restaurant next, besides opening a fine-dining restaurant as well.

For a company so obviously impatient about profits, malls mean slow business, “restricted only to weekends”; airports is where the 24×7 action is. So if LBF bagged the F&B concessions at Mumbai’s new international airport, where it has around 30 outlets, it was with the clear intention of fast-tracking the business. In fact, when we tell him about a lone McDonald’s doing brisk business in Delhi’s lane of newspaper offices, he immediately senses opportunity for a QSR outlet, and even calls up his real estate agent for it. “Pizza,” he adds when he learns most of the workforce is in its 20s. “If anyone wants a chaat stall at their office party, I can set that up too,” he tells us, when we laughingly ask him if there’s anything he isn’t open to.

At this point, one can’t help but recall acclaimed chefs who refuse to move out of their lone, secluded properties, insisting on limited covers—all for quality and customer satisfaction. But Aggarwal has a ready response for that too. “That’s one business model, and there’s my business model. Growth and expansion do not mean compromising with quality.” He reminds us about the stringent auditing. We get the point.

Both Delhi and Mumbai have central kitchens where most of the food is prepared and sent across to various outlets—“to achieve consistency and reduce costs”. Interestingly, it seems to work, with all restaurants under the LBF umbrella providing reasonable quality and
pricing. Even Aggarwal admits food is “mostly good”, but that there’s always room for improvement.

It is perhaps to prove this point that the company is contemplating a fine-dining bistro, for which they have already recruited a pastry chef trained in Paris. RK Puram in Delhi is the intended location for the first outlet.

But remember, this is a business that refuses to be constrained. So if there are plans for Delhi, there’s a new brand in the pipeline for Washington DC—American Tandoor—which will serve Indian food with an American twist. There’s already a Zambar in Abu Dhabi, and plans for Punjab Grill outlets in the US, Dubai and Bangkok, all with an estimated investment of around R100 crore. Nothing seems ‘light’ about the idea.

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