Slogging in the city of dreams - Mumbai, was a young man who weaved ‘one big dream’ of breaking the shackles of the concrete jungle. After a hard day’s work as the Business head at Sportz Interactive, all he loved doing was listening to blues, watching documentaries, cooking sambar & rice and tripping on ‘Curb your enthusiasm’. When it was time to make his dream a reality, the first thing he did was ‘stopped shaving’ and journeyed back to where his heart belonged – Bangalore, but not before making a trip to the mountains! Meet Vishwaraj Mohan, the ‘implementor’ (as he calls himself) at CounterCulture.True to his venture’s name, you don’t meet Vishwaraj alone, you also shake hands with Gonzo, the resident Rottweiler at the restaurant, bar, and an open space – CounterCulture!
“I wanted to create an alternative space for art, music, and thinking,” shares Vishwaraj. A purist by nature he dislikes the glass buildings and mall spaces and so began the hunt for the right location in 2009. Old homes weren’t an option - didn’t want neighborhood trouble, old marriage halls came with air conditioning – again something that he disliked. After a good one year of searching, Vishwaraj found an old factory which is now CounterCulture.
Just 9 months into the business, CounterCulture has proved to be a cult! Before you rubbish this off as just another eatery with a great ambience, you must know CounterCulture is a hotspot for performing music bands, theatre, artist workshops, everything CounterCulture that you can think of doing. As Vishwaraj defines it, “We also serve food and liquor, by the way.”
The place hosts gigs every weekend and has had popular bands like Backward Glance on a travel road – France, Something Relevant, Teddy Boy Kill, The Bicycle Days, Tempo Tantrick, Thermal and a Quarter performing. CounterCulture is known for the festivals it held - Celebrating Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday with 30 blues musicians from across the country and a 4-band alternative music festival headlined by Goddess Gagged. CounterCulture also hosts theme based flee markets such as the ‘upcycling recycling.’
You’d think - like most places that hold gigs, CounterCulture too welcomes just the young. On the contrary, it has a fair mix of people from all age groups. Says Vishwaraj, “The Kitchen Garden workshop’s oldest participant was 65 year old. We’ve also had a fun workshop for kids. We welcome you with your pet as well!”
Away from corporate buzz of Bangalore city, CounterCulture is tucked away in Whitefield and this has its own pros and cons. But Vishwaraj has found a way to work around it, by offering paid pick ups and drops for guests. Over the weekend CounterCulture serves around 500 guests and nearly 100 on weekdays. It has the capacity to host 1,200 guests. With 24,000 square feet area, CounterCulture had some 62 things growing from their soil – rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, aloe vera, bananas, mangoes, chickoos, and much more.
In the true sense of the word, the food platter too is CounterCulture with unheard of dishes like a combination of Thai salad and Jayanagar’s pineapple chat. Says Vishwaraj, “All our food is self-created. We don’t serve straight forward dishes because we don’t want our guests comparing our food. CounterCulture has a Thai expert, European expert, a chat and halwai person, and they experiment to get to our food.” The menu, as Vishwaraj puts it, serves world cuisine.CounterCulture has a tandoor but doesn’t use it often, unless there is a party. “We realized that the coal supply we were getting was illegal, so with Karma in my head I decided not to use the tandoor,” says Vishwaraj.
At CounterCulture, Vishwaraj encourages his staff to fuel their hidden talents. “Since there is red soil in our compound, one of the boys made lamps, another sketches, while another develops crazy fonts,” adds Vishwaraj. He works with a 35 member team, most of them aged under 30.
In the initial two months, Vishwaraj stayed away from any mass marketing. “At the start of CounterCulture the only promotional tool we used was Facebook. Word-out-mouth also worked in our favour,” says Vishwaraj. It was only after six months of operations that a radio campaign was launched.
Like any start-up CounterCulture has had its teething problems. It’s issue being vendors supplying vegetables on time. Vishwaraj recalls pursuing liquor brands for weeks. “There is a shift in equation, now they run behind me for business,” he says with a smile.
Having invested around Rs 1.5 crore through bank funding, Vishwaraj hopes to breakeven in three years. His father S R Mohan, who runs his own IT consultancy, is the Chairperson on board at CounterCulture. He looks into the finances of the business.
For the next two year CounterCulture won’t consider having another physical space in any other city, but will look at creative platforms to build its brand equity as an alternative space for arts, music, thinking!
“I’m probably the worst entrepreneur because I’m purely driven by passion. I want CounterCulture to be a brand that represents everything alternative. I don’t want it to be confined to a physical space,” shares Vishwaraj.Living his vision, CounterCulture has curated music for the Bangalore’s Sunday Soul Sante. He is toying with the idea of taking the Blues festival to Goa, and working with large festivals across the country like in Ladakh and Rishikesh. “We don’t intent to be event managers but a brand that’ll curate the festival, work on the design, aesthetics, and so on,” says Vishwaraj.
In the coming year CounterCulture will consider venture funding. “It’s not as much about the money, as it is about working with the right set of people. So, no strategic partner, just an investor will do,” Vishwaraj makes it clear.
Other than the long weekends and erratic rains in Bangalore, that at times dampen the business, Vishwaraj is concerned about the state government’s regulation on the city’s night live. “Bangalore is going through a strange change in attitude due to the government’s rules on live music. I do see that as a challenge,” voices Vishwaraj.
“CounterCulture is a philosophy is my head and tattooed on my arm,” shares Vishwaraj who is already gearing up to retire in the Himalayas by 2020.
Let’s just call it being CounterCulture!
Raghu Dixit project
An ode to the blues festival with Jimi Hockings (Australia) and Izzy and Chris (USA)
Big Mushroom cloud festival
- Aminah Sheikh