How I Got Here: Zorawar Kalra

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here: Zorawar Kalra Indian entrepreneur behind the Massive Restaurants group and founder of Farzi Café on London's Haymarket

Related tags: Indian cuisine, Casual dining

The Indian entrepreneur behind the Massive Restaurants group and founder of Farzi Café on London's Haymarket tells us about his career.

Why restaurants?
I have always been intrigued and infatuated by the restaurant industry, though I was exposed to it through my father (Jiggs Kalra). What really drives me every day is my love for Indian food, and I believe it is our responsibility to showcase it in the best possible way.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Paradise Pup in Chicago. It is several years old and serves the best burgers in America. They source their ingredients from specific vendors. Two brothers run it with a lot of passion, and that is what I love about it.

What motivates you?
In an industry where competition is so tough, it is extremely important to keep evolving to stay ahead of the curve and give patrons something exciting each time they choose to dine at our restaurants. Not a day goes by when I don’t think how we can we give our patrons great food and warm service. I believe there is no golden rule of running a restaurant apart from the fact that guests should be served great food in a hygienic manner, with a smile.

What keeps you up at night?
I have a relatively lower sleep time. I sleep usually four to five hours a day.  What keeps me awake is new ideas. My kind is constantly racing and sometimes the excitement levels are so high that I can’t wait for the morning to come so I can share them with my team.

Best business decision?
To start Massive Restaurants immediately after selling my stake in Punjab Grill. Some might have chosen to take time off but for me I was very excited about the future and couldn’t wait to start over again.

Worst business decision?
Many decisions have in hindsight been bad. You will always make mistakes in your career. However I believe a bad decision is better than a late decision. And as such I don’t spend any time thinking about the poor ones. Should a poor decision be made, one should do their utmost to correct it and steer things back on to track

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
My father was the biggest influence. I had pretty much decided to go into the restaurant business in my preteen years. I travelled the world with my father and observed his lifestyle, which I found very intriguing. This also exposed me to great food early in life. He would always tell me, first figure out something to do for free and then find a way to make money from it. Though I always saw him build amazing intellectual property, it was for other people. So at a young age, I decided to arm myself with proper business knowledge and build a company, and also—as my father did— put Indian food on the global palate.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Always dream big. When you dream big and shoot for the moon, you are forcing yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Never quit. Perseverance makes all the difference. You are never too late or old to dream big. And there are no shortcuts in life, hard work is very important to achieve your goals.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I think there is severe need for the sector to be recognised as an industry. We are the second largest employer of human capital in this country after agriculture and contribute over 2% to the GDP. We need a single window for licenses and restoration of input tax credit for GST. These things will make the ease of doing business a reality.

Coffee or tea?
I am addicted to coffee and my favourite treat has to be my double espresso in the morning. That first cup puts a lot of energy back into to my system and enables me to jump-start my day.

How often do you check your email?
I’m not a 9-5 person at all. In fact many people call me a 24x7 kind of person. I don’t stop working and I enjoy that. So I’m constantly on my phone and emails.

Typical Sunday?
Brunch with kids either at home or at a place of their choice, followed by a round of golf. Occasionally it could also include a trip to the race track for a track day with friends.

Favourite holiday destination?
I love Dubai and Japan. Dubai is a place that has something for everyone. It has some of the finest dining destinations, amazing places for children, great opportunities for business and a welcoming culture, unlike any other. Tokyo I enjoy for the incredible food and the exposure to the Japanese culture; and Goa simply because it’s a matter of pride that one of the world’s great tourism is within the country and the vibe is unparalleled

What are you currently reading? 
I only read biographies or autobiographies. Current I am reading a biography of Sam Manekshaw and one on Ratan Tata.

What was your dream job growing up?
The passion for restaurants has always been deep within me. I was thrilled to my father growing up working on great concepts, his lifestyle and especially the respect he commanded from the industry at large. My father was the biggest influence in my life. But I didn’t want to do something boutique, rather my entrepreneurial bent of mind was more focused on a larger enterprise that would put Indian food on the global palate permanently. My father had instilled this huge responsibility towards Indian food in me. I grew up in a household that was very food-focused. It got us all together. All of us used to meet together on the dining table. As a child, holidays meant tasting new flavours at the best restaurants across the world.

Bio

Raised in New Delhi, Kalra is referred to in some circles as the 'Prince of Indian Cuisine’ and is credited for upending traditional Indian cuisine across the globe. His passion for molecular gastronomy led to the creation of his Massive Restaurants group in 2012, which operates some 26 restaurants across eight different countries. Kalra has received numerous awards during his career, including GQ India’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2017; and is a regular TV personality, having been a judge and host on MasterChef India in 2016. He founded Farzi Café in London in early 2019.

Related topics: People, Profiles, Casual Dining

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