Vital Stats: Sushil Malhotra ®, 55, and Rajesh Bhardwaj, 45, of Café Spice
Company: Casual-style restaurants offering Indian cuisine
2005 Projected Sales: Over $12 million
For over 25 years, Malhotra's Indian fine-dining ventures thrived in the New York City restaurant scene. He knew customers enjoyed the food and ambience of his upscale eatery, Dawat, but he believed that, because of the higher price point, "they were happier coming when they were on an expense account." Malhotra resolved to offer authentic regional food, atmosphere and reasonable prices in a more casual setting. Bhardwaj, who had hands-on restaurant experience in both India and New York City, shared his vision.
Café Spice was created in 1998 to "reintroduce" basic classic Indian dishes. Staples like samosas, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer are among customer favorites. Contemporary designs with spice-like colors provide a sleek atmosphere at the restaurants, where customers of all ethnicities flock to taste the multi-regional fare.
Zaika Flavors, Café Spice's quality control center and commissary, is where all the food is marinated and sauces are started before refrigerated trucks deliver them to the restaurants. When food operators came calling, Zaika spun off into its own business; it now provides food to the Citibank, United Nations and World Bank cafeterias. In addition, Whole Foods grocers purchase 10,000 pounds of food from Zaika Flavors every week.
Café Spice currently has seven locations and is set to open three more by the end of 2005. The company also plans to expand into university towns across the U.S. "[College students] are more educated about the cuisine and more amenable to trying it," says Malhotra. "Demographically, it's a risk-free market-success comes a little faster."