Saloni Jhunjhunwalla and Prachi Saraogi, business partners at The Salt House in Kolkata, talk about the challenges and joys of running an upmarket restaurant in the City of Joy.
What is the most interesting aspect of the restaurant industry for you?
Saloni Jhunjhunwalla: The most interesting aspect is the amalgamation of the front end and the back end; how a dish is started from scratch by a different team and ends up plated in front of the guest by another one.
Prachi Saraogi: One of the most interesting aspects of a restaurant is the power and influence it has over the food habits of the consumer and the overall food industry. Restaurants are a great platform to promote local ingredients and sustainable practices. A restaurant can provide experiences from around the world on a plate.
What are the challenges you faced initially?
SJ: Not being from the industry we had to learn the littlest of things. However, it was the delay in acquiring the liquor licence which was our biggest challenge as we had to run a place without our biggest source of revenue.
PS: The success of our business heavily depended upon liquor revenue, which took us over two years to procure.
What are some of the learnings you picked up along the way?
SJ: We learnt that working as a team is the most important thing in this industry. We also learnt how to be more patient!
PS: Not getting the liquor licence taught us a great deal about how to stay relevant in this space. We had to come up with various innovative ways both on the plate and space to sustain the restaurant. To be known among the best restaurants of India, liquor was not the only factor; food quality and innovation were also key. Not being from the industry, every step in this journey has been a learning experience.
If you had not become a restaurateur, what would you have become?
SJ: I used to write as a journalist so I guess I would have continued doing that!
PS: I would probably run a social enterprise in the sports field.
What is the one thing you enjoy most about your work?
SJ: I enjoy interacting with new people every day.
PS: Learning about new ingredients — ones that are lost to the ones which are in trend, or the ones which probably only locals use and are not fancy enough to be put on a plate. Bringing all kinds of ingredients to our menu is one of the most exciting parts of my work.
What is the most sexist thing you have ever heard?
SJ: Sometimes it is assumed that women in family-run businesses do not draw a salary!
PS: Why do you need to make money?
Any interesting anecdotes on the job?
PS: Of course, it’s always fun to hear guests walk into the restaurant claiming to the owners that they know the owners!
What is your advice to women entering the industry right now?
SJ: Be yourself, don’t let anything or anyone bog you down!
PS: A lot of women might find running a restaurant overwhelming given the operational hours. I personally think, you can easily maintain a good work-life balance. If you have a good team and system in place, it’s actually amazing to run a restaurant. Also, unfortunately, the kitchen is still a very male-dominated space. I would encourage more women to aspire to run the kitchen.
Do you consciously promote diversity in your operations by hiring women for certain roles?
SJ: Absolutely. We have a lot of women on our team and will continue to do so.
PS: We are always encouraging women to join our team. Some of the best players in our team are women.
The one thing that people do not know about the industry you work in….
SJ: They don’t know how difficult it is to be on the other side of the table (how we have to face guests and the manner in which we have to conduct ourselves).
PS: Consumers are not always right.
Any message for our readers on International Women’s Day?
SJ: It is our era! Women should be happy in whatever they are doing; that’s the most important thing. PS: You can be whoever you want to be. Never doubt yourself.