Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2021: Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director, Atelier House Hospitality

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Mahendra admits that she has often felt neglected or forgotten by her peers in the sector- however, she made sure that such challenges never deterred her from realizing her goals.

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This article is a part of the 2021 installment of Entrepreneur Middle East's annual Achieving Women series, in which we profile female leaders of note in the MENA region. The full series can be seen in our October 2021 issue here.

Atelier House Hospitality

In every tale of triumph about a woman, there is almost always one emotional aspect that shines through more splendidly than others: self-belief. Women who’ve firmly set out to achieve their dreams, no matter what the odds, by fully believing in themselves, have always been sources of motivation and inspiration for many. And it is this characteristic that has remained a constant in the career trajectory of Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director of boutique culinary firm, Atelier House Hospitality

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Mahendra admits that she has often felt neglected or forgotten by her peers in the sector- however, she made sure that such challenges never deterred her from realizing her goals. “Women just need to make an endeavor to shine and push themselves to be heard and seen,” Mahendra says. “We can’t always blame the other gender. I have been able to break many glass ceilings, so, I am sure many can do it too!” It is this unfazed attitude that Mahendra has adopted throughout her career, which now sees her at the helm of the Dubai office of Atelier House Hospitality, a New York-based full-service hospitality advisory, development and operations management firm that aims to deliver expert knowledge on the many nuances that come with running a high-caliber F&B venue. “With decades of experience and a team of world-class talent, Atelier House empowers and emboldens small and large businesses alike, combining global perspective with local know-how,” Mahendra says. “In my role as Managing Director, I have been in charge of everything from conceptualizing, to building and expanding brands, and operating them to success.”

Mahendra joined Atelier House Hospitality in 2017, but her overall experience in the F&B sector has spanned for more than 17 years. In that time, she has overseen and conceptualized the launches and operations of over 45 restaurants. And it is this wealth of expertise and knowledge that she used in leading two recent projects that she says she is most proud of: the international expansion of UAE-based Indian restaurant Mohalla (a homegrown concept that Mahendra came up with), and the launch of only the second branch of New York-based Michelin star Italian restaurant Marea. “With Mohalla’s expansion, it was all about taking a homegrown brand international,” explains Mahendra. “We were able to launch it in Riyadh, and also franchised ten units of the restaurant to the royal family of Saudi Arabia.” Mahendra has also been pivotal in leading her team towards the launch of other F&B brands in the UAE such as The Host, Asma, Meshico, Morini Riyadh, 11 woodfire, RSVP, and SOMA. 

Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director, Atelier House Hospitality. Source: Atelier House Hospitality

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2021: Alia Al-Shamsi, Acting Cultural Programming Manager, Louvre Abu Dhabi

But amid successes are the inevitable lessons that come through failed endeavors and unprecedented stumbling blocks. Mahendra’s business lens appears to be untainted by unrealistic expectations, and that is perhaps most evident in how she analyzes what the many challenges of the COVID-19 crisis have taught her. “Expect the unexpected!” she declares. “I think my leadership style has remained unchanged through the pandemic, but the overall emotional quotient paradigm has definitely shifted. Crises bring humans together, and this was no different. I think camaraderie, empathy, and patience have evolved a lot more through the last one year.”

The underlying traces of realism in Mahendra’s leadership, a style she describes as “pragmatic and personal,” become even more prominent when she recounts the best piece of business advice she has ever received. “The best thing I learnt is to take nothing for granted, to stay humble at all times, especially through success, and to let the results speak for itself,” she says. “Dirty hands are a sign of clean money, so you need to be a part of the system to know the system.” But even the most hardworking of people can at times feel let down, unmotivated, or even face issues that stem from their own insecurities.

So, how does Mahendra deal with such moments? “There will always be certain amounts of insecurities and competition, but I know one thing for sure: hard work goes far, and in due course, is recognized,” she says. “But I also have my loving and protecting family, a super supportive boss, and a great team to keep me going. I have always kept my head high with work ethics and dignity, and know that no one can take that away from you.” But Mahendra also urges everyone to make it a point to find out how they can boost themselves- indeed, she has already devised a formula that works for her. “Personally, I find that working out and spending time with my dog are the biggest stressbusters,” she concludes. “And a bit of a nightcap never hurt anyone!”

The Executive Summary: Panchali Mahendra’s tips for women in business

Be the hero of your own story. “Never play the underdog!”

Patience is the biggest virtue. “Know that it might take time, but it will happen.”

Invest in yourself. “Keep reading and studying, as self-awareness and being worldly wise is very significant.” 

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2021: Mae Romero Do-Thanh, Owner And CEO, The Branding Room

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Written By

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Writer at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and is also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program. A self-proclaimed bibliophile, she has a penchant for chai, cricket, and all things BTS.