In conversation with Ms. Vaishali Das Gupta, co-owner of a leading chain of Indian restaurants, namely Bembi and Rangoli, in Barcelona, Spain.
Tell us about your dream—how did you envision Bembi and Rangoli and how did it feel seeing it come to life?
Bembi happened from a very casual talk while on a holiday to Spain. My husband and I, were then working in the UK and had 20 years of hospitality experience in 5-star hotels behind us from the Taj. We saw that any kind of food with a little bit of spice and colour was being served as Indian food to foreigners in Barcelona and we found that very offensive. The Bembi journey started with the idea of serving the right kind of Indian food to the European Market in a quality ambience and showing what India is all about. 4 years after Bembi we opened Rangoli. It made one feel that casual ideas can also become a reality, so keep your thoughts interesting and adventurous!
Looking back— from your college days in India to being the owner of a restaurant chain in Spain, what were some of the milestones in this journey?
What you learn in college and what you set out to practice is totally different. We never imagined being restaurant owners but taking a risk and making it work is a challenge and if we did not take the risk, plunge in – we would never know what our capabilities were.
3 months into opening Bembi, we were being talked about in the local newspaper of Barcelona, LaVanGuardia . We had eminent personalities visiting the restaurant (name not being disclosed for confidentiality), but they were important Ministerial delegations from different countries. Having our own recipe book “Cocina India para occidentales” (Indian cuisine for Westerners) gave us a lot of credibility as this was the only Indian cuisine cookbook available in Spanish.
Being a part of the Mobile World Conference and the only company to cater for Bharti AirTel, looking after the Mittal family members dining in our restaurants (which gave Barcelona one of its biggest boost in the economy in 2014), wedding caterings in France, outskirts of Barcelona have been achievements that we are proud of.
We have not set any milestones but yes would love to establish Bembi as a brand in different countries, if we can. Our first step in doing this was building Mumak Tropical which is a tropical restaurant located on one of the happening beaches of Ibiza, serving tropical food – Jamaican Mexican, Indian and open from breakfast to post dinner cocktails.
What is it like selling Indian food abroad? And how does the perception of Indian food among the audience abroad influence you/the menu?
The perception of Indian food earlier was that it´s SPICY , but we have introduced the locals to food that makes them understand that when we add spices to our food it is not necessarily HOT. For example, our explanations also talk about honey or a pinch of sugar put in various items.
The clientele has changed over the years and are more forthcoming and adventurous which is a welcome sign for Indian food.
How has the demand for Indian food abroad (or specifically, in Spain or in Europe generally) changed over the years?
With people becoming ecofriendly, using organic items, wanting to have fruits and vegetables, Indian food is definitely in demand as the amount of vegetarian varieties our cuisine offers, is surprising for Europeans.
Did you face any challenges in creating a market for Indian food? How do you deal with your competitors (if any)?
We were lucky to have started off well in 3 months’ time. The biggest challenge is getting Indian cooks here in Spain and Indian employees in restaurants. Luckily for us we have had and retained our team since inception. Those who have left (3 so far) have moved out of the country.
What do you do to ensure that your dishes are different and special?
We maintain consistency and food is prepared fresh everyday. Cooking with passion is important and if you keep your employees motivated, your food is great and result is a happy client!
How does the ambience of your restaurant(s) and the theme add to the customer experience?
We have made the ambience different from a normal Indian restaurant . Explaining both the themes is very pleasing for clients.
Do you have a particular ‘signature’ dish? Why do you think it is in great demand?
No particular signature dish. Clients come back for their favourites which change off and on.
Any interesting anecdotes behind the naming of your restaurants?
Yes, please check the meanings of BEMBI and RANGOLI on Google.
*BEMBI means the navel or belly button in Marathi and RANGOLI means traditional Indian patterns and decorations, especially made during festivals.
What do you think is the USP (Unique Selling Point) of what you have to offer to your customers?
Hospitality professionals who have experience in five stars hotels in India and abroad, coming together to provide a unique Indian meal experience.
Do you think running a business and running a kitchen have any similarities? If yes, what can one learn from the kitchen to implement in business?
Yes, they are similar. Quality control , team management, motivation and other principles apply.
What makes your customers loyal?
Standardisation of recipes with quality food and service , customer recognition , likes and dislikes all add to the experience. Major attention to minor details make the experience overwhelming.
What does it take to be successful in this industry?
Lot of hard work and perseverance.
Looking ahead, what are your plans and/or goals you intend on achieving in the next 5-7 years?
Building a chain of restaurants in different countries.
Vaishali was brought up in Calcutta while her roots are in Maharashtra. Her multi-ethnic background automatically makes Vaishali multi-lingual. She is fluent in English, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Spanish. Doing justice to her warm, vibrant nature, and a permanent curiosity for knowing places and creative things – Vaishali took up Hotel Management – a path which was unconventional as compared to the Medical and the Engineering fields popular at that time.
She has over 14 years of experience in the hospitality industry, working with some of the big names in the industry. Vaishali believes that perfecting the art of hospitality involves commitment and an irresistible obsession which should be strong and passionate- something that has to come from within!