Young restaurateurs have changed the food landscape of the city. Payal Chhabria reports.

A bunch of Chennai youngsters are breaking the stereotype of the city being conservative culinary space and crafting interesting dining experiences through a combination of innovation and passion.

Praveen Kumar Athikesavan and Goutham Challani

Age: 26, 23

Venture: Cup O Cafe

USP: A chic ambience offering a vegetarian Italian platter alongside enticing desserts

In 2010, two childhood friends came together to conceptualize an interesting idea; the idea of a cafe-restaurant. When Praveen and Goutham, saw the 100-year-old building in Purasawalkam for the first time, they knew that this was where Cup O Cafe was going to be housed and they appropriately called their firm, Vintage Beverages N Foods Limited. Two more outlets followed suit (at ECR and Kilpauk). “At the launch of our first outlet, we never thought we'll get the opportunity to experience the same again. Today, we intend to set up 100 branches across south India, by 2014,” says Goutham.

Sandesh Reddy

Age: 27

Venture: Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory, Fresca Pizza

USP: Exclusive chocolate parlour that also offers a hand-picked line-up of western delicacies.

Feel like having a cup of rich hot chocolate? You needn't compromise by settling on the not-so-chocolaty consistency of part water, part milk at the cafe next door; you can always head to Reddy's, Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory. “I didn't want to create a restaurant. I have always been obsessive about food; I've crafted something that I like. For me, Sandy's is all about me,” he says.

Passion is the bottomline. “You need to plan well ahead. It is not the most rewarding business. It may seem glamorous but it isn't what it looks like from the outside. They should be willing to sacrifice. I work 14 hours a day. If you have the passion for it, go for it,” says Sandesh Reddy.

Rakesh Raghunathan

Age: 29

Venture: Petawrap

USP: Healthy burritos

However, at the end of it, a food venture is promising. At least that's what Rakesh feels. In just a couple of years, he has set-up 11 outlets of Petawrap across the city. The wholesome filling that is used in the making of these wraps, are delivered in nitrogen flushed vacuum sealed bags at the outlets. Sounds like a line off a Chemistry textbook? He simplifies it, “Everything made here is untouched by hand. It is bacteria-free.” For those with a new inkling Rakesh suggests, “I have several mentors who mentor me on a weekly basis and monthly basis. I don't have to report to anyone except my investors; however, in terms of strategy and how your central kitchen needs to function, you definitely need someone to report to and platforms like this give you that security.”

A Shameek

Age: 27

Venture: King Burger, Zinger, Chicky's

USP: Fast-food for people on the move

Having set-up an array of fast food joints, Shameek has had to deal with on his way here. “There are a lot of issues that you might have to face, especially when you are new,” he says. “Not just in terms of the food but even issues like police licences, managing the staff, dealing with landlords are an intricate part of the process.”

Shalini Vasan

Age: 32

Venture: Three Doors Café

USP: Chinese food in an open air, cafe-like ambience

There's a reason for the growing number of western cuisines. “People are trying to create a balance between style and substance,” she says “Another reason is the growing number of expats in the city. The local crowd is also more curious and has more exposure, now.”

Bhuvanesh Subarayan

Age: 25

Venture: Donut House

USP: One and only kitchen in the city that serves vegetarian Donuts, exclusively

Donut House is a perfect blend of adventure and innovation. On the eve of launching the third outlet at Besant Nagar, “I discovered that there was a market for it and somebody had to begin,” he says, “So I did. We consciously worked on a vegan platter because most Indians are vegetarian.” And he adds, “If you don't have the passion for it, then it is certainly the wrong place to be in.”

Mansi Hemdev

Age: 24

Venture: Ox and Tomato

USP: Authentic New York style pizzeria

An intense aroma of pizza dough fills the air at Ox And Tomato, distracting us during the interview. “Youngsters are willing to take a risk,” she says, “Most eateries focus on cuisines that the city is still getting familiar with. Also, places like Sandy's have narrowed down their offering to elements that were not exclusively available in the city earlier.”

Expert speak...

M Mahadevan

Oriental cuisines

“The food industry is reaching boom time. Today's youngsters are spending more than ever before and eating out is becoming a trend. However, I would like to advice them to do their numbers well. They must work out their expenditure so that even when times are rough, they'll be able to survive. As of now, if you combine a good location with a good cuisine, you will be a winner.”

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