Title: Out of the city and into the kitchen
Publication: Glasgow Herald
Date: December 2009
Photo: Ajmal Mushtaq
Management Consultant took gamble of his life by giving up successful career to open Indian restaurant in Hamilton.
With the end of year party season approaching fast, the country’s top restaurateurs will be hoping that customers who have been spending more in the shops lately will approve the usual seasonal increase in their eating out budgets. In this weeks SME focus, a former City management consultant who is master minding the expansion of an Indian Restaurant closer to home says politicians could do more to help keep the tables full. Like others he wants Alastair Darling to set the ball rolling by leaving VAT at 15% for the foreseeable future when he delivers his pre budget report to the UK parliament on Wednesday.
What does it produce, what services does it offer?
Mushtaqs Restaurant serves Proper Indian food in contemporary surroundings with slick service. Also offers a carryout and home delivery. The focus is on 100% natural Indian food that is good for you cooked in the most hygienic conditions possible.
To whom does it sell?
We have a customer base that travels in from all over – even as far away as Edinburgh and Greenock.
What is the turnover?
650,000 – growing at approx 8% per month
How many employees?
22 – Looking to expand to 32
When was it formed?
7 months ago. On our travels and living in London I never found a restaurant that made Proper Indian Food. It was obvious where our true passions lay and soon enough we were already formulating a business plan and undertaking research into the industry in the run up to our return.
Why did you take the plunge?
I worked with my father in the restaurant business when I left school and this where I developed my love of great food and had an insight into the running of a business.We decided to open Mushtaqs because we were passionate about bringing Proper Indian Food to the people of Hamilton and we were proud to stamp our name to our cuisine.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I studied Law at Glasgow University and then continued to do two Masters degrees – in corporate finance and accounting.
I moved to London to join world leading management consultancy, Accenture, where I advised blue chip firms including Vodafone, Barclays and the London Stock Exchange, delivering multi-million projects that specialized in organisational change.
After a successful career as a Management Consultant, I wanted a new challenge and food is something I have always been passionate about ever since I was young.
How long were you with Accenture and can you give some examples of projects you worked on?
I was with Accenture for 7 years and I was part of the Management Team. I was responsible for delivering Multi Million pound Business Change projects. Examples included driving operational excellence into the core of business, large IT Transformation initiatives spanning multiple geographies, transforming divisions into High Performance Business by improving organisational culture.
Are you applying the same principles to Mushtaqs Restaurant?
I developed an operating model for Mushtaqs based on the best of what I knew and I am simply executing this to the letter – so far it is paying generous dividends. This took my experience in the restaurant business, academic theories and working at the sharp end of Management Consultancy.
What are the key elements of the model without giving the game away?
Mushtaqs Business Model is a perfect balance of the three core areas that are important to me: People, Product and Customers. This is at the core and my time is spent equally on each of these. The Mushtaqs Business Model has encompassed these at the core and is wrapped tightly by the key elements of running a success business. Vision, Mission, Core Values, and strategies for the following Sales, Marketing, IT, Web, People management and customer service.
This business model drives everything we do and is responsible for the continued success. The key point is that this Business Model can be applied to any business as the principles of running all business are almost identical.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
As we were a new limited company with no credit rating, it was very difficult to obtain funding even for a few thousand pounds!
Myself and Nisreen took a very small wage and wore many hats. We risked everything we had including our savings and job security to invest around £500,000 into the business. We developed most aspects ourselves from design and interiors which Nisreen carried out herself taking subtle inspiration from London’s trendy restaurant scene, also investing in staff training, carrying out research to establish a real picture of the complete dining experience and what we wanted to achieve, as well as headhunting top chefs from the Indian subcontinent.
What was your biggest break?
Winning the Eat Safe award which made Mushtaqs the cleanest restaurant in the county. This award is given by the Environmental Health Department to establishments that have hygiene standards above the requirements of law. It was well publicised by South Lanarkshire Council and this gave us a boost.
We have been blessed with breaks since then – we received an excellent review from a national newspaper (Tam Cowan), have been invited to prepare food for Katherine Jenkins and Fred MacAuley on BBC Radio to mention a few.
What was your worst moment?
Cooking food to the exacting standards during the first week became a huge challenge as the chillies supplied were so much hotter than ordered. This really affected customers during the first week as they believed proper Indian food was hotter than it should have been. A major PR exercise was mobilised to correct the reputational damage. Not to mention the supplier being sacked.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Doing what I have always wanted to do is the best part. Working with a great team of people who all believe in the same thing. It gives the place a real buzz and keeps us all full of energy. I spend a significant amount of time on training, safety and hygiene and as we are serving around 500 meals a day it’s important to keep everyone focused.
What do you least enjoy?
Meetings with the accountant – there are usually loads of mundane actions from these meetings – such as "Calculate the total percentage of Cold Menu Items that you sell on a weekly basis" – these reports usually take hours!
What is your biggest bugbear?
The new Licensing Act and regulations. I appreciate the objectives but the execution and support available is very poor. Extra staff training and costs incurred for no Value-Add in the restaurant business. Restaurants don’t attract bing drinking and violence etc but we have to adhere to the same rules as pubs and clubs.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
My target is to take the turnover from 300,000 at the start to 1million turnover within 12 months. So far we are on the right trajectory. It’s going to be tough – but I love a challenge.
What are your top priorities?
Food Hygiene has always been my number 1 priority and will remain so.
I believe customers should have the confidence that their food is being prepared in the most hygienic conditions possible.
What are the business development priorities?
To continue to spend 33% of my time training the team to the Mushtaqs system. This pipeline of trained staff will allow me to explore expansion possibilities.
What single thing would most help?
Some sort of national league table where customers can log on and see how there favorite restaurant is managing their hygiene standards. A tool is available on the some local councils’ websites – but it is difficult to drive down to the required clarity without spending too much time.
What could the Westminster and or the Scotland governments do that would most help?
Keep the VAT at 15% for longer period of time. Make initiatives such as the Work Trial Scheme or Recruitment Subsidy from Job Centre Plus more accessible. Extend the reduction in business rates for another 2 years minimum.
There needs to be action that has a real, actionable, and immediate effect for the business owners. These are tough times and we need more action fast.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned?
Believe in your ideas even if others don’t. People thought I was crazy to leave behind a successful career in London and open up a restaurant - in the middle of a recession. So far Mushtaqs is simply going from strength to strength and is growing at 8% per month.
How do you relax?
I enjoy snooker, martial arts, football and cooking.