Atulya Mittal: Aggressive expansion for 'Papa John' on cards

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Charting own way has been special element in the start-up story of this Mittal scion, Atulya Mittal, Master Franchise, Papa John’s-India, who is focusing on better pizzas and better ingredients. Entrepreneur unveils his journey so far and his growth plans to know if he will be as popular as his steel baron Uncle Lakshmi Niwas Mittal.

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Atulya Mittal, Master Franchise, Papa John’s-India

What prompted you to take an independent path instead of following the family business?

I worked in the family-promoted steel business from 2008 to 2011. The company I worked for had about 3,000 employees and sales more than $1.5 billion. So it was great to get an inside view at the functioning of such a large company. After this experience and my MBA, I thought the next logical step in my career would be to apply my learnings in shaping a new venture into a large organisation or taking responsibility of leading a small company and growing it.

When the opportunity – seemed to be a challenging one – for Papa John’s India business came along, I seized it. However, I still try to keep up to date with our metal business as an investor and periodically offer advice on issues concerning shareholder value such as new investment decisions and strategy shifts.

What led to your interest in the F&B industry?

While at business school, a classmate and I worked on a business plan for a QSR chain. As we researched the industry, we realised the amazing opportunity that India was offering in the sector. It was a simple lesson that every professional investor knew but it took me a while to realise that while steel was a great bellweather for the economy – moving up and down in line with economic growth – consumer companies, which had a solid brand and product, did really well in good times and compared to commodities were relatively carefree in bad times. This learning, combined with India’s relatively low restaurant count per capita, made the sector and business a very attractive proposition.

How many stores does Papa John’s have at present and what are its expansion plans?

Today, we have 65 stores in India. This is up from the 20 that we took over in December 2013. We were able to grow in large manner due to the merger with Pizza Corner in November 2014, rebranding their stores to Papa John’s. The rebranding was completed in the first half of this year. Thus, we were able to triple our store count in less than two years of investing in the business. Credit goes to the team for quick and successful conversions. We’re very excited about the next three years as we have aggressive expansion plans but are yet to announce the final store count that we will be opening.

Tell us about the entrepreneurs seed funded by you.

We are working with Jayesh Bagde and Shailesh Deshpande, entrepreneurs who have a vision to develop a differentiated hyperlocal e-commerce company. I was really impressed with their ability to bootstrap and start operations in Nagpur so we are working with them to improve the technology and roll-out in other surrounding cities.

(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (October, 2015 Issue)