Born and brought up in Kanpur in the family of a hotel entrepreneur, Insha Malhotra, Restaurant Owner of “D-Café” and “Stone: The Indian Drama,” is a restaurateur by heart and soul. As a kid, she grew up in a surrounding where every conversation of her family members revolved around hotel businesses. Let it be about the selection of chairs for a fast casual restaurant or about what chandelier would suit the traditional fine dine décor, Insha started showing interest by participating and giving her inputs in these conversations. Slowly she grew up learning the fundamentals of hotel industry, then came the time for Insha to apply for the college. The only college she could think of was, “Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration” – The Best Hospitality School in the world. After graduating from the Cornell University, she was ready to explore the global hospitality industry. But soon she faced the dilemma of choosing between two options, to work for a global hospitality firm in New York City or to go back to India and join her father in his endeavours. After analyzing the hospitality scenario and the needs and wants of people back home, Insha decided to go back to India and bring back foreign concepts with her own twist to the city of Kanpur.
Inception of Insha’s Journey of becoming a Hotel Entrepreneur
After heading back to India, Insha was ready to amalgamate her knowledge she gained at the Cornell University with the distinctive ideas to bring a new and unique dining experience to the city of Kanpur. She wanted to serve the customers everyday food with a twist, something rarely seen before. She thought of introducing progressive Indian food beyond the familiar curry and naan bread. Bringing this change was neither fast nor an easy task, thus she sat down with a team of chefs and started planning a menu of everyday dishes to be reinvented in a global manner. After months of research, doing experiments in the kitchen and creating a lab like environment in the dining room, Insha successfully launched Stone: The Indian Drama – UP’s first restaurant serving molecular gastronomy food. But the ultimate aim was, not to isolate themselves with food based around physics and chemistry, so, they also introduced Indian dishes on their menu, but with a fusion and twist in taste and presentation.
Food that Activates all your 5 Senses
Stone: The Indian Drama – the name says it all. At Stone it’s not only about serving tasty food, but it’s all about creating an all round unforgettable experience. The Dramatic experience at Stone begins with jaljeera sorbet that comes in miniature trucks, luring the guests to take out their phones and click a photo. The show continues with dishes like the dragon smoke makhana and popcorn flavoured with Maggi tastemaker and infused with liquid nitrogen. After the guest pops a few in their mouth, they exhale smoke like the dragon spits fire. The drama doesn’t stop here, they also serve deconstructed golgappa shots, molecular chaat and molecular rasmalai, all made right in front of the guests at their table, playing with nitrogen and carbon-dioxide and giving their guests the ultimate theatrical experience.
To further dramatize the experience, the molecular cocktail menu includes Magic Mojito made with nitrogen and cotton candy – inspired from a restaurant in LA. Whiskey Sour Sorbet made live at the table side in front of the guests, molecular caviar infused gin cocktails and much more.
Growth for the Sake of Growth is the Ideology of the Cancer Cell. – Edward Abbey
Once Stone was established, there was never looking back as it was up and running smoothly. Then it was the right time for expansion, but for Insha, it was not all about expanding her business. She wanted to target the market segment that was untouched, so she came up with an idea of opening a concept café, and then the inception of D-Café took place.
The chic English ambience of the place takes the guest away from the hustle bustle and daily madness of the city. To stand out from a regular cafe, Insha thought of introducing the viral concept that she came across in New York City, ‘The Freak Shakes’ where their gravity defying milkshakes are not just a treat for the tummy but a feast for the eyes too. So, Insha took inspiration from there and decided to make it D-Cafe’s goal. So that every dish leaving the kitchen should be surprisingly photogenic so that people would be urged to bring their phones out and click some snaps before digging in. Considering food and service as absolute essentials, Insha wanted to take her guests’ mind off social media and wanted to add a fun element to their experience. To make her guests relive their childhood they added simple elements like a deck of UNO and board games like LUDO and Snakes and Ladders.
Taking the Road Less Traveled
Every hotelier wants to start his restaurant or hotel business in a metro city, but even thinking of starting a concept restaurant business in a tier 2 city like Kanpur needs guts. Insha, after doing an extensive research concluded that, people in tier 2 cities of India have disposable income and interest in experiencing a unique dining scene and to accept concepts such as D-Café, in their cities. So, Insha has embarked on journey to explore these small towns and take her concepts to the cities that would be benefited from such ideas.
Hospitality: Malhotra Family’s Tradition
Hospitality runs in the Malhotra family and Insha’s biggest inspiration after her father Vikas Malhotra, was her sister Shagun. Six years ago, when night life in Kanpur was non existential, Shagun, just 23 years of age realised that there was no place in the city where people her age that have travelled the world could just hang out. She noticed that in a city like Kanpur, people had the money, but lacked the means to spend. After returning as an interior designer from London, Shagun opened Dhuaan Sheesha & Kitchen, Kanpurs first stylish restaurant encouraging nightlife. She further used her interior designing skills to design Kanpur’s only 5 star hotel: The Landmark Towers. Seeing her sister being involved in the family business and passionately following her dreams, Insha was inspired to do so too. The two sisters love to travel the world together exploring new and upcoming trends in the hospitality industry.
Taking the Concept of Entrepreneurship to a New Level
For Insha, entrepreneurship is all about perseverance.
“The idea of having a goal or a north star and sticking to it for the long run and seeing your idea transform from into a tangible product is what makes it exciting. In today’s day and age with technology playing such a big role in all industries, too many entrepreneurs are ‘trying too hard’ to be innovative. They are trying to solve problems that do not exist. Having a north star, a goal or chasing a problem makes entrepreneurs much more effective in both creating a demand for their product as well as bringing about a change.” – asserts Insha.
Being a young entrepreneur, Insha has achieved so much in such a less time. Her success is the ultimate result of her hard work and sheer dedication. Her mantra to success is to focus on dissatisfied customers, because she believes dissatisfied customers are the greatest source of learning.
Therefore, we need to pay attention towards the three A’s: Apologize, Acknowledge and Act.
Creating a Change and being a Part of it
The travel and hospitality industry is gearing up for one of the biggest disruption in decades. Today, the millennial customer is the most connected, well aware and demanding. Every customer wants a different experience with high quality food, smart technology experience and an inspired ambience, all wrapped into a single restaurant or hotel experience. The restaurant industry is being forced to rethink their design, menu, presentation, guest services and experience to cater towards the millennial customer that wants their visit to be an ‘instagram moment’ each time they come to the restaurant. To create this moment, Insha and her team is changing focus from taste to presentation. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen to create the best tasting dish, chefs and imaginators are now spending hours on how to create the best looking dish. This shift of focus is to meet the millennial customers’ preferences.
At their restaurants, they too are playing with nitrogen to invent cocktails that come in a treasure chest filled with dry ice and plating dishes at the table side to create that wow moment that the customers are looking for.
As experiential marketing is taking off, consumers are expecting restaurants to offer them experiences outside the usual scope. In the past year we have seen international brands such as TAO experimenting with pop-up concepts in Mumbai. I believe that in the coming future we can see a rise in pop-up restaurants in India, that focus on creativity and exclusivity. Having curated three different pop-up restaurant concepts in New York state over the past few years, my next step is to get the popup restaurant culture to small towns in India. Cities like my own, where people have travelled the world, experienced all sorts of cuisines and are looking for something new, pop-up restaurants is the answer. People might think pop-up restaurants are temporary, however, I think that pop-up’s aren’t just about the exclusivity of a one-time event, they’re about testing the deep waters of the consumers likes and dislikes.
Aiming for a Bright Future
After conquering the two extreme market segments, Insha is all set to start her new venture, and she is working on her next project “The Living Room,” a sophisticated space that will serve as a Private Dining Room to the elite customers of the city with a customized food and drinks menu each night. Insha has also embarked on a journey to explore small towns in India and take her concepts to the cities that would be benefited from such ideas. Insha loves “experimenting with new and different concepts outside the usual scope of the industry”. Her long term goal is setting a more robust dining scene in India and introducing the pop-up restaurant culture.
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