Chairman of K Hospitality Group, Sunil Kapur’s unmatched experience in the industry ensures K Hospitality Corp continues to expand across business verticals in the F&B sector. Sunil Kapur is a hurried man the way he talks relentlessly in the same manner he finishes work to sit with us as he is already late for the appointed time we are told to meet in his office. He has a lot to share as a lot is happening with the newly integrated identity of K Hospitality.
Kapur keeps on travelling and knows the anxiety of the traveller, owing to which, he has been able to focus well on the travel food business. On our way back at the airport, we see the Mumbai themed food fest, which seems to be going on in full swing. Kapur surely knows the pulse of his customer well. For now it’s back to the business. K Hospitality Corp is a third generation privately held food and beverage conglomerate in India. It was founded in 1972 by late JK Kapur with a single Indian restaurant.
His standalone restaurant, Copper Chimney became a trendsetter of that era. It positioned Indian food in a different avatar and also had an open live kitchen, quite unheard of in those times. The brand stood at a different location from where it is today – just three buildings away. Kapur was introduced to the business by his father at quite an early age. His entry into the business marked the transformation of the company into a food conglomerate.
All other brands the company runs today were started by Kapur. “At that time, we started Bombay Blue, Noodle Bar and Spaghetti Kitchen, and we did so much of land side operations, which were our forte,” shares Kapur. But even till today, he is recognised as the Copper Chimney man. “Now as my children have come in, my advice to them is while we are coming up with so many brands and products, copper chimney must regain or be back at its position as it deserves to be,” aims Kapur.
K Hospitality not only created great concepts around north Indian, north western and mughlai food, but also introduced restaurants like the Bombay Brasserie that focuses on cuisines of India all available under one roof. Here the aim is to pick up the best of the best and authentic foods from all parts of the country. Bombay Brasserie has foods from Kashmir, Kerala, Lucknow and Maharshtra. Also, it has become a great tourist attraction. The first outlet was opened in Coimbatore and then in Chennai.
They are now looking at other big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur. On keeping a balance between the traditional ways and modern outlook, Kapur says, “While today is the trend for fusion food, things are changing and you need to adapt. There is a market for that too and because of that we kept our basics as per modern requirements that’s how we always wanted these brands.”
Although most of the stores of the company are its own, the company has also worked on building the franchise model very aggressively. Besides Bombay Brasserie and Copper Chimney, it also operates Irish House, which happens to be a pub and operates like a deli during the day. It’s operational in Pune and Kolkata and is soon going to open in Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai.
The company also runs franchise of KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Barista and Café Coffee Day. Talking about the secret recipe behind such great food court concepts, Kapur says, “We took the food court concept to an entire different level. Not all of them worked because we were again ahead of our time.
Even the one at Bombay Central I remember at Big Bazaar, we opened an entire food court. We bought an international design, brought in new-age concepts, we created a lot of our own brands where sometimes we do an arbitrage bringing established brands but we also created our own brand.” In the words of Kapur because they tried everything, they know what works and what doesn’t. “We have been constantly innovating, coming out with something new.
When there are new ideas, there is a thought process behind it. As a catering company that’s been our strength,” says Kapur. Talking about expansion via franchising, Kapur says, “We want to build company processes and systems that can help scale up the franchisees. We are building a brand not just for visibility, but also to make it profitable for the franchisee.”
Catering also forms another major thrust area for the group. From North to South, a lot of banquet halls in Mumbai have been catered through this, covering the entire city. Then there is a separate division that only does outdoor catering. And that company does large catering to handle large functions including sports events like the Cricket World Cup and the IPL. Banquet hall continues to be the growth area. Apart from Mumbai, they are now looking at Pune, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
Airport catering has been an interesting line of business for the group. After tapping India, the company is now looking to expand internationally. “We have international partnerships with flight catering. That’s a separate division not focused right now. At one point, we were catering to low cost ventures through a JV. That’s taken a backseat now,” informs Kapur. Another interesting foray for the company has been into the railway catering business. “We have successfully launched in cities like Visakhapatnam, we won a tender, launched it, had success,” shares Kapur with pride.
The company is now looking at the Pune tender. Highways have been the most recent area for the company. Recently, it has won some tenders and locations in north India. Moreover, the Mumbai lounge has been nominated for an Asia prize for the best lounges. For the T2 terminal, they have already built 32,000 sq.ft of lounge space for the airline and are in the process of building the next 38,000 sq.ft for the domestic and international T2. The aim is to create new standards, design, and new services as in the lounge.
Talking about the group’s foray into retail, which has been through Relay, Kapur says, “Relay is our first foray into retail, we started with Bengaluru.” Relay outlets have been opened through a tie-up with Lagardere Services, one of the largest airport retailers in the world. Majority of the funding for the company till three years ago was coming from internal accruals. Only recently, they have started looking at bank debt. As per Kapur, they are not looking at taking the company public in near future.
Given the diverse segments the group operates in, it also gives opportunities to youth to switch roles easily with the organisation. There are people looking after projects who have now moved to operations. There are also examples where one of company’s chefs is now heading a separate business division. “We encourage entrepreneurs in our organisation,” says Kapur. Even now when Kapur’s sons Karan and Varun have joined the business, both of them switch their roles every two years so that they know the business completely.
While Sunil Kapur remains the chairman of the group, both sons have joined as executive directors. After a stint in the United Kingdom, working as an investment banker at Bank of America, Varun returned to India to join the business in 2008. Prior to leaving for his MBA, Karan headed the founding and growth of Travel Food Services from 2009 until 2013. Currently, Varun is spearheading the growth of the group’s foray into the travel sector under Travel Food Services (TFS).
Karan heads the hospitality and food services verticals of K Hospitality Corp, which includes the restaurant management vertical (brands such as Copper Chimney, Irish House and Bombay Brasserie), the F&B concession management vertical that covers large scale food concessions and food courts managed by the group & the Corporate Food Services vertical.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (October, 2015 Issue).