Rohit Chugh landed his first position in the restaurant industry as managing director of Cinnamon Club in 2004. In 2008, he set-up its sister site, Cinnamon Kitchen. Chugh then decided to fulfil a lifelong ambition to run his own Indian street food restaurant, Roti Chai, which opened in August last year.
How I got to where I am now:
I started life in the City, working in finance. I studied law at university, but I’d always had a strong entrepreneurial streak throughout my time there. I also had a massive passion for the food I grew up with as a kid - I grew up here in the UK but eating my mum’s food every day just blew my mind, and also visiting family and friends in India every year.
I always had this desire to showcase our food. I eventually reached a bit of a crossroads and thought ‘shall I stay here in the City and make this my life or do I go into restaurants?’
I spoke to a bunch of different people and got some very good advice from friends and was lucky enough to be taken on by the Cinnamon Club as managing director in 2004.
The Cinnamon Club was a huge step for me - it was very daunting, but actually everything I expected. It was fantastic, you always need that bit of luck in this industry and in life generally.
I then launched Cinnamon Kitchen in 2008. By 2009, I felt I’d really done my ‘apprenticeship’ in restaurants and I took another decision to launch my own solo venture. Between 2009 and 2011, I spent a couple of years just focusing on putting everything in place for Roti Chai.
My biggest challenge:
There are a number of big steps I’ve taken in my career so far and I guess the main challenge is actually in convincing yourself you’re doing the right thing.
You always have to focus on the mechanics, and there’s so many moving parts to restaurants. On the front of it, it just looks like a really sexy, bright lights industry, which it is. But there’s so much more to it; so much hard work behind it.
Without believing in yourself, it makes it very hard to succeed at what you’re doing.
It’s also been tough raising finance. But what probably made it a little easier was that I put up everything I had, so some of my friends who did back me and had known me for a long time, knew that I believed in Roti Chai.
My greatest career achievement:
Launching Roti Chai was an amazing achievement - seeing it come to light after nearly two years of graft. What also makes me happy is putting together a team that has the same passion that I do, just knowing that they will put everything into it because they absolutely believe in it.
You also get to work with great people, it’s very hands-on work but generally great fun.
What I love about the industry:
In a bizarre way, it’s the challenges which I just talked about that make the job so rewarding, because there are challenges every day and every time you overcome them, you see the business slowly evolve.
The first time we had 100 guests through the door for dinner service and we see the whole team exhausted. A few months on, we see 500 people coming through the door quite regularly and it runs smoothly and no one even bats an eyelid.
A wise man once said ‘find a job that you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.’ It’s been very much like that for me.
What I don’t like:
For me, it’s the administrative side because as I said there are so many moving parts to keep maintaining - but it’s of course a necessary evil. It’s not something which I would honestly choose to do myself, but I have to.
Why street food is such a hot food trend…
I’ve been trying to get my head round this myself to be honest! I’ve actually come up with a theory that there are two types of street food; there’s street food which is ‘on the street’ and there’s street food which is ‘from the street’.
There’s a whole variety of this cuisine which serves it out of a van or a shack on the street in the UK somewhere, that’s ‘on the street’. But what we’re doing is taking the food ‘from the street’ of parts of India and offering it in a restaurant, in a similar fashion to other street food concepts.
If you’re talking about Spanish or Italian or European food, you’ll call it Tapas. If you’re talking about Asian food, be it Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Indian, you’ll call it street food. But it’s all just about this idea that you can share.
The success and potential expansion of Roti Chai…
I’ve been blown away by how well Roti Chai has done. The whole operation really only kicked in in December, so we still feel very young, but every month its getting busier and busier. The most encouraging thing is the number of repeat customers we’re getting, it’s amazing.
There’s definitely room for us to do a few more restaurants in London and we’ve actually been very flattered to have a number of people approach us in terms of landlords saying ‘we’d love to see something along the lines of what you’re doing in our space’.
We’re hoping to launch something next year, with the idea being to do something with the same ethos but a slightly different attitude. The challenge will be on the creativity side of things, taking what we have at Roti Chai, keeping the food ethos but doing something a little bit different.
I would love to open loads of restaurants around London. One thing I’ve done throughout my life is travel extensively. At one point I took the best part of 15 months off and travelled to all sorts of places and I would love to open different genres of restaurants. I’m passionate about Japanese cuisine and I love the food of South East Asia.
My advice for young entrepreneurs:
Definitely begin by actually working in the industry and getting a feel for how it works from the inside out, before you start doing your own thing. Depending on your background, you can either go into a managerial role or you can come into the kitchen or work on the floor, but either way you have to have a feel for it.
One of the most important things is that you have to understand that it’s hard work. If it’s not for you, you’re going to really find it tough. But if it is, you will soon reap the rewards of overcoming each challenge that you face.
This industry is not for everyone, but if you know it is for you, there’s really nothing better.