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It’s not the end, it’s a ‘mend’: Amit Bagga

In a hospitality industry disarmed and spiralling into chaos, Amit Bagga, Co-Founder of the Daryaganj - By the Inventors of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani restaurant brand, narrates a story of hope, amend, and coming back stronger and more scrumptious than ever.

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For the most part, the past 13 months have been a complete joyride. April 13, 2019, saw the legacy of the inventor of butter chicken and dal makhani—Kundan Lal Jaggi - immortalised into a contemporary-yet-authentic avatar with the launch of our brand, Daryaganj - By the Inventors of Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani. For me and my Co-Founder Raghav Jaggi (who happens to be none other than the inventor’s grandson and my childhood friend), this was the start of an amazing journey.

Since then, it’s been one leap forward after the other. From one outlet to four. from a positive response right at the start to being cemented into the fabric of Delhi’s much-loved restaurant scene.

And then COVID-19 happened. The fallout was no different for us than other hospitality ventures. This new reality dawned upon us early, and even before the Government’s orders, our shutters were down for the safety of employees, customers, and the community at large. Consequently, we cancelled our first anniversary celebration and it wasn’t grand as expected. 

The jitters that we had felt before the launch—“Would authentic flavours find acceptance in the sea of fusion that every new culinary establishment’s been swimming in?”—appeared insignificant compared to what we felt now; one was forced to wonder, “Where do we go from here?”

Like anyone faced with ambivalence, I felt lost for some time. And then one day in the wee hours of the morning, I remembered the saying, “There is opportunity in adversity”. The greats knew it—Isaac Newton, for instance, changed the world while he was quarantined during the 1665 Great Plague of London; he helped develop calculus, furthered the understanding of colours and light, and, most importantly, largely understood gravity during his ‘Year of Wonders’—and I could definitely take a leaf out of his book. This was our chance in an uncertain world. 

The next day, we made a list of things to do. It began humbly—assessing and creating robust standard operating procedures - and then we stepped into content development, marketing strategies, etc. The team of Daryaganj was soon on a Zoom call, brainstorming, creating roadmaps, and working better on tasks connected with their KRAs. Be it HR, accounts, operations, purchase, or other teams, the focus was to streamline, augment, and devise a ‘restart plan’. The quality assurance (QA) team’s work was particularly essential, as they focussed on enhancing the standards of hygiene. Lots of evaluation took place, from employee performance to analysis of customer feedback. 

The otherwise ‘pause period’ for the world became a learning period for us. Interestingly, our one-year-old plan to put in place a ready-to-cook, do-it-yourself (DIY) product finally came to fruition. A COVID-19 world is mostly indoors. Then why not bring to people’s homes? The other way to do that is home deliveries, which we are simultaneously working on. 

In fact, it goes without saying that DIY food and food delivery will grow substantially in the post-COVID world. At the same time, these new experiences won’t bite into the restaurant’s share, as eating out will retain its novelty. So many working professionals don’t have the time to cook. Home cooks aren’t easy to find, especially now. So food-for-convenience will thrive. 

This way, we covered every base - What to do now, how to better what we already do, and what to do next. 

Daryaganj is about various stakeholders and patrons who understand what’s delectable as well as we do. So we spoke to everyone. We also came up with arrangements to ensure our staff is well supported and able to look after themselves during the lockdown. We’re expecting good support from our landlords. After all, our relationship is all about having each other’s back—we need the real estate and they need good brands. 

As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That has become the spirit of the time we live in, as has the fact that now isn’t the end, but, on the other hand, a period of ‘mend’. Which is what we have done at Daryaganj. In fact, this serves as a lesson for everything, even personal growth. I, for one, did a SWOT analysis of my personal and professional goals, which helped me introspect. 

And we must address the elephant in the room—Will restaurants even make a comeback? My answer: Well, of course! Just look at China. When the country opened up, scores of people lined up outside restaurants. The principle that guided them was of ‘small expenses’; people may have foregone large purchases, but a reasonable dining experience doesn’t hurt. Also, people won’t be able to travel to foreign shores for a while. Local entertainment, like your favourite neighbourhood café, will have a big appeal.

Normalcy will restore someday, if not today. The Oxford university has successfuly accelerated work on COVID-19 vaccine trials. Surely, it’s only a matter of time. As the world reopens, expect Daryaganj to be back with a bang.

It all comes down to the genesis of eateries. Restaurants came into being not just to feed people, but also to create experiences around food. You can socialise, enjoy a view, or try something unique. Where else will you get that?


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Amit Bagga Daryaganj hospitality lockdown COVID-19

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