Monday, April 15, 2024

Spreading the South’s culture and cuisine with quality and health

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Taking his family’s legacy forward, this week the visionary chairman and founder of The Vitskamats Group, Dr. Vikram Kamat, interacted with The Pioneer for our weekly column of Hyderabond.

SHIKHA DUGGAL

A chain of luxury hotels is running successfully in the country, including in our city of Hyderabad: the Kamat Hotels, founded in 1986 by the late Venkatesh Krishna Kamat and which has since grown. The exclusive opportunity to personally interact with Dr. Vikram Kamat, the son of Vitthal Kamat and a visionary chairman and founder of The Vitskamats Group, was flawlessly ideal for our Hyderabond column. The entrepreneur pronounces, “My personal experience, having travelled to numerous countries, is that our food has become extremely popular. Though it is still in the nascent stage, just like how Japanese food is equated with sushi, similarly, our food is associated with butter chicken and naan at the present moment. However, items like dosa, idli, chole bhature, and many others are also becoming extremely popular. In many countries across the world, numerous chain restaurants from the country and city can be seen, which shows the growing popularity of the cuisine.”

They have been at the forefront of innovation in the F&B sector, and Dr. Kamat’s extensive experience makes him an exceptional source for thought-provoking content. How? Well, he says, “I have observed the effectiveness of running successful restaurant businesses not only from my father but also from my grandfather, who, at the time, had multiple restaurants in partnership, though not under a single common name. Managing costs well, taking good care of your staff, providing training and opportunities, and, of course, understanding customers and their preferences are key factors that I have learned about successful restaurant and food business management.”

He was the All India National Council’s gold medalist and a topper in Hospitality and Hotel Administration from IHM. The beginning of his career was within his family business of hospitality, where he successfully led the five-star eco-friendly hotel from an independent hotel to a popular hotel chain.

So he continued, “Having built Kamat and Orchid Balewadi in record time and making them one of the most successful hotels, despite all odds, Successfully restoring and completing the first Jadhav Gadh project! Being one of the youngest hoteliers to own his own chain of hotels. Successfully setting up the highway chain of Kamats and Vithal Kamats when no one was thinking of highways and making dosas and idlis available on highways, which were previously not accessible due to a lack of manpower. Developing India’s first earn-and-learn programme for 12th-grade and graduation students in hospitality at Khas. Developing a pan-India four-star chain focused on tier 2 and tier 3 cities are all my career highlights.”

He took over the reins of the Vithal Kamats Restaurants chain, which at that time was aggressively spreading across the states, especially Hyderabad, and used his cunning business tactics to make the brand one of the largest pure vegetarian restaurant chains listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange as well. Commendable!

We wanted to hear more, “It’s evident that Kamats has a long history, but it faced challenges in terms of visibility until it got a restart when you noticed the significant gap on the highways. Recognising the lack of good food options, particularly south Indian cuisine, and the absence of clean washrooms along the highways, I saw an opportunity to revitalise Kamats and address these essential amenities needed by all travellers, regardless of their social status or family size. Kamats made an excellent contribution to the social infrastructure for travellers. This dedication to improving the travel experience did not go unnoticed. Both me and the company received recognition from the government and various other prestigious awards, acknowledging the significant impact and service provided to the community.”

It’s true that he converted Fort Jadavgarh into a heritage hotel. Again, how? He enunciates, “After completing the conversion, setting up and managing the entire operation posed its own set of challenges. Unlike a regular hotel, special care was required for various aspects since certain facilities were either unavailable or couldn’t be developed in the fort, especially in the back-of-the-house areas. Throughout the restoration process, we discovered many secrets about the fort. One intriguing piece of history is that Fort Jadavgarh was once used by Rajneesh (Osho) before he moved to the USA. In fact, a part of the fort was accidentally burned and had to be rebuilt when they were vacating the premises. It was a journey filled with unique experiences, and the result of converting the fort was truly rewarding. Despite the challenges, the outcome brought a sense of pride in preserving the historical significance of it.”

When entering tier 2 hotels, he couldn’t simply rely on the standard big-box hotel model with numerous rooms and standard offerings. So, “You need a highly innovative approach, especially in the F&B sector, which we successfully implemented. The inspiration behind this innovation was the realisation that the market couldn’t sustain a conventional big-box hotel with a large number of rooms. In response to this challenge, we understood that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. This innovative approach not only set us apart from the competition but also allowed us to thrive in a market that demanded something different from the standard hotel offerings.”

His father was always a part of the business, having opened numerous locations for him in his ode. He explained further, “My father also got into developing new concepts, which became hits. Like clubs and then orchids. Just like he was able to create his mark on his own, I am proud of doing the same with my brands and now the group’s first premium dining space, Kamats Legacy.”

Being keen to branch out on his own and having travelled extensively across the country for work, he could see the tremendous need for quality hotels and restaurants across Bharat, where urbanites couldn’t go. Hence, “Here, there was a significant demand not only from travelling businessmen and tourists but also from the locals who required good places for dining out and banquets for functions. Additionally, these establishments catered to both businessmen and tourists alike. Given our expertise in the food and beverage business, it was easy to create restaurants with rooms, rather than the traditional approach where other hoteliers view it as rooms with just a restaurant!”

There were many challenges along the way; for example, “One of the major obstacles was finding quality interior and civil vendors in some towns who could efficiently complete the work. I vividly recall one incident where a vendor promised to come the next day but arrived after three days. The pace and seriousness of work in smaller towns differ from what we are accustomed to in bigger cities. To overcome these challenges, we conducted focused training sessions for our staff to bring them up to the level of expertise typically found in larger cities. For instance, in towns where foreign guests were rare, we had to ensure that the necessary procedures for handling them were followed, which is a routine practice in bigger cities. Another hurdle was sourcing the same food, packed food items, and non-food items that we were accustomed to in larger cities. This led us to establish a proper supply chain to ensure the availability of essential items. For example, we had to ensure that packed Amul butter chiplets were readily available for breakfast, as it wasn’t a standard requirement in the town until then. Despite these challenges, we persevered and successfully adapted to the unique demands of each location.”

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