Joanna Lobo

Chef Dharshan and Jacqueline - courtesy Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
Chef Dharshan and Jacqueline – courtesy Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo

In Texas, a restaurant called Dosa Labs has a dosa called Deepika Padukone, stuffed with ghost chilli and potatoes. A Pune restaurant chain, Aaoji Khaoji, uses the actress’ name to sell their special parantha thaal. In Mumbai, there is Chicken Sanju Baba, an ode to Sanjay Dutt from Noor Mohammadi Hotel in Byculla. The hotel, a popular haunt of the actor, cooked his favourite chicken recipe and added it to their menu.   

It is no secret that Indians are obsessed with Bollywood. The celebrities have become a part of our daily lives, their presence not just restricted to films. They are even influencing our food choices, beyond just ads. We have often seen Bollywood stars talk about their favourite new haunt or chefs on social media. Over the years, a growing number of them have even also invested in restaurants and clubs. There’s Chunky Pandey and his association with Mumbai’s The Elbo Room, Asha Bhosle’s international chain of Indian fine dining restaurants, and most recently, Shilpa Shetty Kundra’s partnership with Allia Hospitality (Bastian and One Street).  

“There has always been a close relationship between celebs and restaurants – the former is always hanging out at their favourites and being entertained by the restaurants,” says food critic and writer, Antoine Lewis.  “It’s a good relationship because the ‘name’ works as a brand ambassador, helping in marketing and driving the publicity of the place.”

A good jodi

Shilpa Shetty Kundra is a fan of seafood restaurant Bastian, helmed by celebrity chef Kelvin Cheung. “The food is comforting, tasty and healthy. Kelvin’s prowess on unique menu expertise in the field and experience is a cut above the rest. I visit it eight out of ten times,” she says.   

A partnership made sense. “What’s a Shetty without a restaurant?” quips Shilpa Shetty Kundra on being asked about her decision.  “I loved the food as a client, so it seemed like a great proposition as an investment too.”

Kelvin Cheung - Shilpa Shetty
Kelvin Cheung – Shilpa Shetty

Through SSK Yog Pvt Ltd, she has acquired 50 per cent stake in Bastian Hospitality. The new JV includes Bastian, One Street restaurants and the meal plan service Whole and Then Some. Cheung will be the Corporate Chef and F&B Director. For him, the partnership ‘is a great match as Shilpa is very passionate about food, cooking, and brand building’. “Shilpa has been a Bastian patron and friend for years. We also share an aligned vision of how we want the business to grow.  She is incredibly business-savvy and brings talent and structure to the company,” he says.

Dan Dan Noodles One Street
Dan Dan Noodles One Street

Shetty wants “to be able to expand the business not just in Mumbai but around India and abroad”. Soon, the rest of India will get to taste the famous Spicy Dan Dan Noodles, Lobster Mac, Truffle Fries, Korean Wings and Pork Char Siu Tacos.

International jodi

One longstanding partnership, though global, is between actress Jacqueline Fernandez and chef/restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa. Kaema Sutra at Colombo’s Shangri-La Hotel is a new-age Sri Lankan restaurant and bar offering native-inspired cuisine and beverages made using old cooking techniques.  The menu lists dishes like Fried Manioc Floss, Pol Roti Squares, The Black Polos Curry, Banan Leaf Barramundi, Soft Shel Crab Kottu, and an EGB drink made from a 100-year-old recipe using special ginger sourced from the central highlands. The food can be enjoyed in the tropical space dotted with vibrant masks depicting folk tales and views of the Indian Ocean. “I happened to throw this idea to Jackie, and she jumped into joining me to create something unique,” says Munidasa. “She is a Sri Lankan and loves the cuisine, and it’s one of the reasons that she’s part of Kaema Sutra. It’s great to have a partner like her to take Sri Lankan cuisine to the next level.”

A dessert served at Kaema Sutra
A dessert served at Kaema Sutra

Munidasa knows a thing or two about successful partnerships. In 2011, he opened Ministry of Crab with cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The restaurant went on to win accolades and impress both diners and critics and this year, launched an outpost in Mumbai.

“Ministry of Crab and Kaema Sutra are examples of good collaboration. Dharshan teamed up with them to bring in glamour, but he runs the business, and importantly, the kitchen, so it’s sustainable,” says Lewis.

Hits and misses

In today’s volatile restaurant market, where new places open and shut down quickly, restaurateurs could take some tips from singer Asha Bhosle on how to maintain a brand through the decades. In 2002, she opened her first restaurant, a joint venture in Dubai serving contemporary Indian food with a focus on dishes from the North West. Today, Asha’s is in 13 locations worldwide, including the Gulf and Britain. The latest restaurant opened in Touchwood, Solihull in March this year. The produce is sustainable and organic and sourced fresh from each location. The menus have familiar fare – kebabs, tikkas, curries, biryanis and rotis. Standout dishes include Nihari Raan Sizzler, Rampuri Paya Biryani, Tandoori Jhenga and Ras Malai.

Lessons learnt

There’s a personal touch too. There are framed pictures of the singer and her family that adorn some of the walls. Bhosle spends much time fine-tuning the menu of each restaurant, even choosing the spices that go into the dishes. All the recipes have some significance to her life: the Manchester restaurant serves Chingri Chaap and Lamb Muscat Gosht, both favourites of her late husband RD Burman; the Hare Baingnan Ka Bharta dish is one of her mother’s favourite.

That restaurant is popular with celebs. Rumour has it that Ed Sheeran enjoyed a paneer vindaloo at the venue during a trip last year. Bhosle has often spoken about her passion for cooking, saying that if she weren’t a singer, “I’d have become a cook”. She likens cooking to singing; both bring joy and pleasure to the recipient.

Flashback

The 2000s saw many stars enter the culinary business. In the late 2000s, Shilpa Shetty Kundra and husband Raj opened Club Royalty (formerly Poison) in Bandra. Other club owners from the film fraternity are Suniel Shetty with Club H2O: the Liquid Lounge in Khar; Arjun Rampal with luxury VIP discotheque, Lap – The Lounge in Delhi.

However, having a star name is no guarantee that a restaurant will do well. All these restaurants have shuttered.

There are many reasons for it, believes Lewis. “Maybe they just invested the money but didn’t have a clear business plan. Many people go to these places expecting to see the celebrity. Once that doesn’t happen, and if the food isn’t good, there’s nothing to hold their interest. It’s okay to make a big fuss about the celebrity name, but the restaurant has to be a solid business in itself,” he adds.

Sometimes, a little innovation can help. Garam Dharam Dhabe te Theka is a themed restaurant chain (by Big Fish Ventures) in Rajouri, Connaught Place and Murthal. It’s inspired by actor Dharmendra and has walls with posters and artworks of him, and his iconic movies and dialogues. The food is mostly North Indian.

In Mumbai, restaurants with a fun, young vibe, colourful interiors and offering a wide variety of food seem to be doing well. Ask Heli Daruwala, who is associated with four of them: Homemade Café, True Tramm Trunk, 1BHK and House of Daruwala.

The actress has always been fascinated with the idea of owning a restaurant. Her dream is to open a ‘nice, vegan café making good vegan fare accessible’. Till that happens, she is content to focus on 1BHK-Brew House Kitchen, the Oshiwara restaurant she co-owns with Simple Kaul (who also started Homemade Café), Addite Malik and her husband, Mohit. The food is a mix of Goan, Parsi, Middle Eastern and European fare. Together with her fiancé, restaurateur Ankit Anand, Daruwala also opened the Parsi café House of Daaruwala in Lokhandwala.

“Associating with a celebrity helps keep the place in the public eye and garner media attention. Besides, because we own the place many of our friends from the industry drop in or we can call them in to help us promote the brand,” she says.

Heli Daruwala at House of Daaruwala
Heli Daruwala
at House of
Daaruwala

Daruwala lives in Juhu and visits each of these restaurants quite regularly and not just because she is invested in them. She reiterates Lewis’ point. “The only thing that will keep people coming back after a point is good food and a great vibe,” she says.

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