Mitan Sachdev quit his job with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and spent 2-1/2 years looking for a site to open the falafel restaurant that was his dream. Then nobody came.
Sachdev (pictured) sat behind the counter of Falafel City, in the 02 Centre, north London, surrounded by piles of food he had brought for his first day in business. Neighbouring establishments were boarded up as the centre brought in new tenants. The colourful revolving sign he had ordered hadn’t arrived. Hungry shoppers who travelled up the escalator to Level 2 instead went to Yo! Sushi next door.
“We opened on the Saturday after Christmas (2013),” says Sachdev, who previously worked for PwC’s Insurance and Investment Management business. “I was expecting a flurry of people. I’d stocked up on pittas and salads. No one came. I thought they’re meant to be coming to me. What’s going on?
‘‘It got to about 5 o’clock and I said: Fine. We’ll do what we can. We went downstairs, did some sampling. And finally that brought in some customers.”
Ten months later, it’s lunchtime and Falafel City is busy. Customers can order their falafel with a choice of sauces, including Paris (soya mayo, mixed herbs and mustard seeds), Delhi (coriander, cumin seeds and green chillies), and Lisbon (red chili, lemon, olive oil, and onion.
The food is delicious, with strong flavours. It is vegetarian, though Falafel City doesn’t advertise the fact.
Sachdev, 33, says he is in discussions to open a second branch and potential investors regularly approach about funding a roll-out, with one wanting to take the concept to India.
Things weren’t always easy. Sachdev, who was born in London to parents from Uganda and Kenya, had trouble attracting backers after quitting his job conducting control assessments on clients’ operations and information technology. Also, property companies wanted to see a working branch of Falafel City before allowing him access to prestige shopping malls.
Finally, he obtained a £70,000 ($112,000) loan from HSBC Bank Plc and managed to get the business off the ground with the help of family and friends and his life savings with his wife Kajal, on whose recipes Falafel City is base. (She works as a technician at a London hospital as well as helping with the restaurant.) “We did speak to investors and for whatever reason they declined but HSBC saw that we had potential and they gave us the opportunity,” he says.
“It’s strange because at that time, the banks were the organizations that weren’t lending and you’d think that private investors would. Of course, £70,000 doesn’t cover all of it and we’ve put every single penny we’ve earned into this.”
Land Securities Group Plc, the UK’s largest real-estate investment Trust, agreed to let him have a site in the 02 Centre, a retail and leisure mall with an eight-screen Vue cinema, Esporta gym and restaurants and stores. Falafel City formally opened on 10 January and attracted queues. Neighbouring restaurants are also now in business, bringing customers to Level 2 of the shopping mall. Sachdev says business is up at least 50 per cent since January and is now profitable on an operating basis. He declines to give figures.
Leap Of Faith
He is a member of the Chinmaya Mission, a spiritual organization based on Hindu philosophy. He says he found the courage to quit accountancy after he and Kajal travelled to India for a spiritual camp. Does he miss the security of accountancy?
“The thing that I enjoyed the most was working with people, talking to people and working in teams, and working on different projects at the same time,” he says. “The exposure it gave me was very valuable. When you’ve just graduated, speaking to CFOs of banks, you just don’t get that exposure anywhere.
‘‘We’d go into businesses and say, OK, you’ve got this control in place or you haven’t got this control in place and for fraud purposes you need to. It was good, and it has helped me in this business, to some extent.
‘‘I’ve no regrets. The Chinmaya Mission talks a lot about the mind and how we need to detach ourselves from our emotions. It has allowed me to conquer my fear and really try to fulfil my dream of opening a restaurant.”
Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland