By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHEN Ashish Kapur launched Yo! China with his business partners Ajay Saini and Joydeep Singh in 2003, I trashed their maiden outlet at a Gurgaon mall in Hindustan Times. Eleven years, many successes and some failures later, Ashish is richer, leaner and his passport is thick with visas of all the countries he and his wife Meghana have travelled as his restaurant business keeps growing. And I am where I am, tapping away on my computer, but nothing I have said or written had prepared me for the success of The Wine Company at the Cyber Hub in Gurgaon.
|Meghana and Ashish Kapur strike|
a pose at The Wine Company
during the launch of the online food
Image: Courtesy of Ajay Gautam
I met Ashish at the launch of Meghana (she, by the way, is named after the Bangladesh river by her father, who received the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery in the 1971 War) and her business partner Elisha's must-visit online food store, www.thedreamcanteen.com, and we had several pours of my favourite white, D'Arenberg's Broken Fishplate Chardonnay, followed by the incredibly smooth Oak Cask Malbec from the Mendoza Valley wine house Trapiche, and finally a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley (Rutherford) label, Frank Family Vineyards, which is owned by the Hollywood veteran and one-time Walt Disney Studio President, Richard Frank, whose son Darryl is now co-president of DreamWorks Television.
With such conversation-engine wines, plus the company of celebrated food critic Marryam Reshii, Ashish young wine diva, Kriti Malhotra, and food experience designer Chhavi Jatvani, and a couple of out-of-the-menu dishes prepared by The Wine Company's 27-year-old chef, Abhinav Sharma (I just loved his mushroom risotto and duck confit), it was not surprising that time just flew by. That gave me enough time to absorb the facts. The Wine Company, which I knew dishes out more pizzas daily than the California Pizza Kitchen, has sold more wine than all the five-star hotels of Gurgaon put together. And it has sold more bottles of Fratelli's Sette, my favourite Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, than any other restaurant in India. This is what industry sources I trust have told me.
This is the drinking culture that wine clubs and wine importers had set out to create, but were not able to do as successfully as The Wine Company. I asked Ashish how he managed to do it and he said he was able to successfully remove the "intimidation barrier" by first making wine affordable (The Wine Company, I am sure, sells more of the celebrated Super Tuscan, Tignanello, than any other restaurant in the country simply by pricing it, unlike five-star hotels, at sub-Rs 15,000) and then freeing the experience from the intellectual callisthenics associated with wine snobbery. And the beauty of it is that it's a replicable model.
Ironically, The Wine Company location went to Ashish after AD Singh, because of some vaastu considerations, turned it down for Soda Bottle Opener Wala. Not that SBOP has done badly, but the iffy vaastu seems to have served The Wine Company well. So, finally, we have a venue where young people can just enjoy wine without bothering about the aromas and the notes, and without burning a hole in the pocket. Unsurprisingly, it is teeming with guests even on Tuesdays, which are traditionally bad days for the restaurant business. Ashish says he works very hard for "prestige and profit" -- he has been able to get both in good measure from The Wine Company.