Sunday, 16 February 2014

BIZ BUZZ: Beer Cafe Dispenses 1.5m Pints of the Brew; Aims for 33 Outlets by 2014-End

Founder-CEO Rahul Singh, a former textile engineer and avid single malt collector, says his dream is to make his brand the "Starbucks of beer"

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

CAFE Coffee Day and Starbucks are two names you'll hear quite often in the course of a conversation with Rahul Singh, Founder-CEO, Beer Cafe. "Do you know how many CCDs are there in Connaught Place?" he asks, and answers his own question: "19." And when he's asked what his vision for his chain of beer cafes is, he says, "I want to be the Starbucks of beer." Clearly, he's thinking big for a vertical he has created -- and grown successfully in just two years.
A section of the 150-seater Beer Cafe Biggie,
which opened at D-Block, Connaught Place,
on Saturday, February 16. The outlet has
16 double-deck chillers that can cool 3,200
bottles of the 54 beers on its menu at one time.
 
It was the inaugural night of Beer Cafe Biggie and we were having a conversation on the terrace of the restaurant at D-Block, Connaught Place, a couple of shops away from the iconic Embassy restaurant. The steady breeze had a sharp nip and Connaught Place, brightly lit like a bride on her wedding night, was teeming with young people. It was as if the entire city had descended upon the Grande Dame of New Delhi. Singh, a textile engineer by training with bright eyes, bald pate and ready smile, looked at the scene below with a evident sense of satisfaction. He had chosen his location well -- and though it is the second in Connaught Place, after the one at Atmaram House, formerly known as Scindia House, he's confident that its 150 seats will draw a steady stream of diners.
By the end of this year, Singh says, he hopes to have 33 Beer Cafe outlets (he already has 17) across the country -- 15 in Delhi/Gurgaon, five in Punjab, 10 in Mumbai/Goa, and three in Pune. These will include three Biggie outlets, all at iconic addresses -- Fort in Mumbai (Singh doesn't fail to mention how Starbucks opened its Indian account at Fort) and Bangalore's Indiranagar 100 Feet Road, where he has located a heritage bungalow for the third Biggie.
At his present level of outlets, he serves on average 2,000-3,000 guests per month, or about half-a-million in a year, each of whom drinks three pints, which means Beer Cafe dispenses 1.5 million pints in a year. Unsurprisingly, Singh is the man whom every international beer brand first approaches before setting up shop in India--the opening of Biggie, in fact, also marked the launch of the Irish beer Carling, a lager brewed with Canadian two-row barley, and Magners, a vat-matured cider made with juices of 17 varieties of apple.
That's a big leap forward for a man who was a textile engineer for different companies for 15 years before he decided to pursue his passion for food and beverage (he's an avid single malt collector with 188 labels, and counting, in his bar) and turn entrepreneur. Singh's first venture was Golfworx, the country's first golf lounge with a six-hole indoor mini course, pro shop, cigar lounge, bar and restaurant in Gurgaon.
Funding this rapid expansion, which has left his former business partner and beer industry veteran Pradeep Gidwani's The Pint Room way behind, is the investment fund, Mayfield India Advisors, led by serial entrepreneur Navin Chadda. Mayfield's current investments include more than 20 companies, including BharatMatrimony and the fashion house Genesis Colors. Beer Cafe is the fund's first foray into food and beverage.
About the Connaught Place location of the first Biggie, Singh said it was an unoccupied apartment (CP was designed to have shops at the ground level and flats on the first floor) belonging to a Kolkata-based company that had gone bust a long time ago. The family of the late building contractor and philanthropist Atma Ram Chadha, which owns the entire block and is embroiled in deathless rent litigation with its old tenants, got back the place after fighting a long-drawn-out case that went up to the Supreme Court. The place, as a result, was unoccupied for 30 years and nearly collapsed on itself when construction work started for Biggie. It is now supported by 32 tonnes of steel!
The exposed bricks of Biggie, Singh says with evident pride, are 92 years old, because the building had been completed in 1932. The ceilings are 20 feet high, so when you climb up the stairs to reach Biggie, you actually cover four storeys of a more recent building. And it has a real fireplace, which I didn't notice at the start because of the two long-legged hostesses, who were dispensing Jagermeister shots with remarkable alacrity, sitting in front of it.
Biggie's 16 double-deck chillers, which reach up to the ceiling level, can chill at any given time up to 3,200 bottles of the 54 beer brands in its stock. To justify its name, Biggie offers 500ml pours and platters big enough to be shared with friends. It has no bouncers and it accepts no reservations. And then it has a Pour Your Own Beer (PYOB) system developed by the US-based DraftServe Technologies. The self-service system at present dispenses eight beers; within a month the number will go up to 10.
Guests buy RFID cards and get to taste the beers on offer and pour the one they like best (and as no service is involved, they pay no service charge!). The man behind this innovative system, Jose Hervis, was present at the opening party and he talked about how he developed the idea at his own restaurants in 2007 before he found takers across the United States and the rest of the world, when he launched DraftServe in 2011.
Singh is not too happy about the food being served at Beer Cafe outlets. "We have to make it better," he says, adding that he plan to have a "less is more" menu with 20 items his kitchen is best at making. It is his vision to "fill up the big gap between coffee places and nightlcubs", to scale up and become "a large, fast profitable alcobev group -- the Starbucks of beer." At the rate at which he's growing, he'll be there faster than we think.