‘Get their watch and you’ll get their wallet’ – Riyaaz Amlani, CEO – Impresario Group


Mr. Riyaaz Amlani is one of the most influential names in the fine-dining circuit. In fact, he is considered one of the pioneers in the space. He is the CEO of the Impresario group of restaurants, which boasts of popular names such as Mocha, Smoke House Grill, Smoke House Deli, The Tasting Room, Prithvi Café and del Italia among others - a portfolio that will turn any competitor green with envy. His mantra has been simple – make spaces to cater to a customer’s mood and the rest will fall into place. It is an interesting philosophy and it is definitely something experience marketers can take inspiration from. Here is Riyaaz talking to us about his journey, his work style and how he believes marketers should entice customers. Excerpts from the interview follow.

From selling shoes to starting Mocha, what prompted the jump?

I was in the shoe retail business during my early days. I used to sit in my little 100 square feet shop in Sion Circle, selling Bata slippers. But one fine day I got sick of it. In the back of my mind I always wanted to explore entertainment options available in the city. Unfortunately Bombay had none. So I did a course in entertainment management from UCLA. While studying, I worked at a restaurant. I started creating spaces and experiences. I’ve done everything from go karting tracks and bowling alleys to swimming pools.

When I came back, I decided to act on my whim to open my own coffee shop. So a few friends and I decided to start up. However, we had absolutely no money. So we plundered our own homes for money and Mocha was born.

How did Mocha become ‘the space’ for the youth? 

Mocha was not really designed to be a space for youth. We actually planned to target an evolved audience. But since kids had such high amounts of disposable time, they completely took over the space.

As for the ‘space’, our tagline was ‘Coffee and Conversation’. I’ve always believed that how you’re having a conversation and where you’re having a conversation has a great impact on the quality of conversation. If you’re sitting on a straight back chair, you’re likely to have a formal, precise conversation. If you’re leaning back and relaxing on a couch, the conversation is bound to change direction. I’ve always thought that we’re in the business of selling conversation. Mocha had armchairs, easy chairs, and low seating. There were conversation cookies instead of fortune cookies. They carried with them topics of conversation.

How was Mocha different from a Café Coffee Day?

When Starbucks came about, it was an American chain inspired by Italian espresso bars. Everything else is me-too Starbucks. But to answer your question, Mocha was all about getting people to linger. We didn’t have a self-service counter. We let people come in, sit down, wait a few minutes, be handed the menu, complete the order process and wait a while longer until they were served. We noticed that people who went to Café Coffee Day spent around 15-20 minutes there. People at Mocha usually spent close to one and half hours in a sitting.

Your tagline says, ‘Handmade restaurants’. What’s that all about? 

Significant attention to detail. We don’t like cookie-clutter. We try and bring a sense of detailing to every restaurant of ours. Take Smoke House Deli, which is modeled as an illustrated museum that talks about the various facets of Bombay’s history. In Lower Parel, it talks about the history of mill architecture in Bombay. The one in Pali Village talks about Bandra-centric stories. BKC talks about mercantile nature and what rich people do with their money.

Right from how the fork feels in your hand to how a cup feels at your lips, we pay attention to everything. No tactile element misses our eye.

How do you conceptualize a restaurant experience from square one?

A restaurant can be prompted by anything - a mood, a song, a location, a picture. When we go to the drawing board we get designers, architects, restaurant designers and everyone else involved and discuss ideas. Almost like jamming. 

How do you differentiate between each of your brands? 

In my head, every restaurant has its own tonality. We try and slot ourselves for customer mood. Like social, casual, elegant, romantic, rich, etc. Once we’ve done this, everything else follows.

Your concept of ‘jamming’ is very similar to how event marketeers work. What can they learn from restaurateurs? 

Fight for disposable time over disposable income. Once you get the watch, you’ll get the wallet.

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