Interview with Shridhar Poojari, MD, Shiv Sagar Restaurant, Mumbai

Shridhar Poojari, MD, Shiv Sagar Restaurant

Shiv Sagar, renowned for its Pav Bhaji in Mumbai, has opened another restaurant in Kandivali neighborhood in North of Mumbai. This was originally to have opened in March. The Pandemic and lockdown caused the delay along with the challenges of operating a new restaurant. This new restaurant would have upgraded ambiance and more varieties to the menu. Shridhar Poojary, Managing Director of Shiv Sagar Restaurants in an interview speaks on the challenges they faced to open a restaurant during the pandemic.

Could you share with us the experience of the opening of the restaurant amidst these tough times in the sector?

The experience was different this time as because of COVID a lot of things have changed across all sectors. The major challenge that we have been facing is driving the sales, as only 40% has been recovered since pre-covid. ​Also, to get regular and new customers for dine-in has become a serious challenge now. As people have lost their jobs due to which spending power has massively gone down.

What are the difficulties SMES are facing in getting the right workforce. How are you dealing with this issue as you opened the restaurant?

​​I​​t is still a challenge, ​as a few of our Chefs were supposed to come back from their natives. Since everyone belongs to different states like UP, MP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, etc. transportation has become an enormous challenge for them since there is no frequency. Since there are few customers hence, we have also revised the restaurant timings. Initially, timings were 9 am – 1 am, and now given the current situation we are opening at 11 am and shutting at 11 pm.

​How long did this planning take during the time?

​After lockdown, it took us a good amount of time and we thought of opening the outlet as late as possible​. As we were waiting to get things better and at the same time, we wanted to protect our staff members. As most of them are still stuck at their respective and a couple of them had left. Even there are still developments going on at the back-end and we still haven’t opened the kitchen for Mexican & Italian.

It has been a month since you opened. How different is the experience of the opening to the previous ones, to open and operate a restaurant under the new norms?

​The experience was truly different this time, as previously we don’t have to do much publicity​ about the brand. We always believed in taking the traditional route, but this time because of COVID for the first time we are aggressively doing publicity to spread awareness since people are not travelling much and especially the older generation. Given the times, some customers prefer home delivery over dine-in. We have also started using and throw cutlery to ensure customer’s safety. ​

How many old chefs have you sent to the new one?

The new ones that we have hired could not turn up ​as they are still in their hometown. So, at the moment we are managing with our old staff members only. Additionally, in terms of staff security, we have given them proper accommodation closer to the restaurant, so that there is not enough travelling for them and less human interaction.

The usual habitual training of the Shiv Sagar – any new entrants or new chef are trained under an old staff for a particular cuisine or department for a month to understand the various ingredients, flavours, hygiene standards, techniques, and protocols that are in place and must be followed at all times. They would work under the senior staff for nearly a month or two. The old staff will also be sent over to the new restaurant to help for nearly three months.