It is around noon at Mirchi & Mime in Mumbai’s Powai area and the restaurant’s employees are busy preparing for service. In no time, the place will bustle with diners, including expatriates who live in the vicinity and frequent the place for the love of its authentic north Indian food.
As the guests saunter in, they are greeted by warm and friendly staff. One is taken in by the quirky and novel décor with wooden pots, pans, and forks in multiple shades of brown juxtaposed against pearly white walls.
The experience at the restaurant, which employs speech and hearing impaired (SHI) persons, the way the staff communicate effortlessly, also lingers.
The restaurant is owned and run by SquareMeal Foods. The firm, which runs restaurants under the Mirchi & Mime and Madeira & Mime brands in Mumbai and Indore, is looking to set up four more restaurants — one each in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad — as part of its expansion.
Towards this end, it is looking to raise funds from family offices of conglomerates.
“We are ready to go live with four restaurants in one shot,” said Raja Sekhar Reddy, co-founder, SquareMeal Foods. Reddy is currently in discussions with family offices of large conglomerates for raising Rs 12-15 crore, particularly ones that have been working towards bringing SHI people into the mainstream.
The discussions with some are in advance stages and likely to be concluded by March end, Reddy said. All four restaurants are expected to be running within the next year.
Reddy said all the upcoming restaurants will employ SHI staff and have standardised menu and décor. “They are super efficient. They aren’t moody. They are very comfortable working in a programmed environment,” says Reddy about his employees.
He, however, is well aware that just the fact that the place is run by SHI staff would not attract people more than once. Eventually, it’s the food quality that has to speak for itself. For this reason, it’s important to keep re-inventing the menu.
Hiring people with special abilities comes at a cost. SquareMeal’s margins are lower than peers in the fine dining space (Rs 1,000 per person category) that typically have an Ebitda (Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) of 15 to 18 per cent. The higher cost comes from additional staff the company hires, the social security cover (provident fund, health insurance, etc) and higher training and recruitment costs, says Reddy. But he has no qualms as it has helped him
contain attrition in an industry where staff retention is one of the biggest challenges and a large cost component.
Meanwhile, for faster expansion, SquareMeal is also looking for franchise partners. Setting up company-owned and company-operated outlets, however,
tops its priority. The upcoming restaurants will specialise in varied cuisines, like eastern Asian, which will open under Mandarin & Mime brand name. “Mime will be a permanent fixture in all our brands,” said Reddy.