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Strictly Business: Challenges are blessings in disguise

Before taking the plunge, understand the nature of the work. In restaurants you don’t get results in a month—here you get your results over time through hard work

Kathmandu, December 26, 2016: At the tender age of 16, Gopal Sundar Lal Kakshapati started a grocery store with his brother. After their successful stint as storeowners, the brothers jointly opened a restaurant in Kathmandu—Café De Park at Ratna Park in 1973; followed by the Nanglo franchise—which is now one of the most prominent restaurants in the country. After four decades of operation, Kakshapati now serves as the Chairman of Nanglo Café and Pub and The Hidden Treasure, the company behind the Miss Nepal pageant. In this interview with Alisha Sijapati, Kakshapati talks about the evolution of the hospitality sector in Nepal and the keys to maintaining a brand’s image over time. Excerpts:

Nanglo has always been popular for its affordability. As one of the most prominent restaurants in the competitive hospitality sector, how do you still manage to stay relevant? 

When the idea of opening a restaurant came in our mind—our objective was to deliver the best quality of food to our customers at affordable rates. My brother and I were young so we understood the sentiments of the youth and decided that the food needed to be affordable. When you are running a business, you have to reach out to everyone. Now, when I look back—it gives me great satisfaction that we have customers of all backgrounds enjoying a hearty, affordable meal at our restaurants. This has been an achievement, and a corner stone for our restaurants.

You have been in the hospitality industry for four decades—how has the sector evolved over the years?

When we joined the sector there was a dearth of skilled labourers. Working for a restaurant was not easy—many people looked down upon this profession. Further, we had to ask friends living abroad to get us raw materials and sometimes, even order kitchen equipments from outside, which was a huge challenge. However, the biggest challenge was that Nepalis weren’t familiar with the idea of eating out in a restaurant and a majority didn’t even know what to order—it was more of a trial and error for them. Now, when I look back, I feel like I am living in two different worlds.

The food habits have changed so drastically. Due to global exposure, people know what they want to order and they are very particular about it.

Nanglo Café and Pub was centrally located at the heart of Durbar Marg for 36 years before moving. Did you ever suspect that relocation would hamper the brand’s image?

I wasn’t skeptical at all, I was very confident that the brand image would remain intact. Everywhere in the world, a restaurant or a store may get relocated but the brand the store has created will never fade away in the eyes of customers. We may not have exactly the same number of customers walking in and out like we did at Durbar Marg, but it is a matter of pride that customers still believe and are aware of our brand.

How has Nanglo been so successful? 

You cannot maintain your brand until and unless you give utmost importance to your customers.
You need to know your customers and fulfill their wishes whenever they are at your place. Customers come with a lot of expectations at a restaurant and our job is to make them feel comfortable and to satisfy them. Fortunately, that worked with us and due to word of mouth, Nanglo’s service was talked about often, not only in Kathmandu but all over the country.  The goodwill of the restaurant is definitely due to our quality and affordable rates. Another important reason is the friendliness of the staff. We have customers coming in after 20 years and it’s good to know that still have the same experience. You cannot buy a brand, you have to maintain it.

With opening and closing down of restaurants in Kathmandu Valley, how important is customer service in this sector?

Without customer service, a restaurant is bound to fail—it’s as simple as that. For generations we have heard and believed in is—‘Athiti Devo Bhava’, which means that our customers are gods. Our tradition believes in it and I completely agree with that. Particularly, in the hospitality sector, we have to understand and accept that the customers are always right, no matter what.

Also the more restaurants and cafes come up—the merrier for us. Having so much competition makes you alert; you are always on your toes. You are always seeing others as competition. The challenges are blessings in disguise.

Can you speak about the large turnover rate in the hospitality sector?

Challenges keep changing over time. In the beginning the challenge was the struggle of getting Nepali customers. Those days, it was even very difficult to get skilled manpower, we had to train them rigorously. Earlier, working at a restaurant was tricky as people didn’t give us the respect that we deserved. Now, a lot of skilled workers are available. At present, the challenge is that you are in a bigger market, there are other entrepreneurs  and the retention is low. We hire our staff, train them, make them skilled and then they leave for better opportunities abroad. It is tricky whether to invest on them or not.  The hospitality sector is in a very vulnerable situation in that regard.

Have you had to reinvent your brand in all these years of operation?

You cannot open a restaurant just for the heck of it and compete with the same menus other restaurants have—what you put out and how you put on the plate matters. Until and unless you have your own style, it’s tough to get far in this field. As a restaurateur, you need to keep in mind that your dish should be palatable. It may be very creative but it needs to be consumable.

What advice do you have for those wanting to join the hospitality industry? 

This field can sometimes get very tedious. When my brother and I initially started out, we used to work for 18 to 20 hours a day—we used to serve, take orders, clear the tables and pass on the bills. It is a very intensive job. Before taking a plunge, understand the nature of the work. Restaurants aren’t manufacturing companies where you get results after a month—here you get your results over time. So, you need to make sure that you put out your best plate while serving customers. You need to struggle and have passion.