It’s a massive cozy living room with the shelves running along the walls adorned with books of every genre; a stage at one end lights up every few days with the performances of world-class jazz bands. High up on the 5th floor, the view from the wood-floored deck is peaceful; the trees and the water-body below add a certain richness to the ambience. Windmills Craftworks, located in Whitefield in Bangalore, is crafted to be a peaceful place where one can relax, and enjoy the finer things in life.
YourStory caught up with Ajay Nagarajan, CEO at Windmills Craftworks, and we spoke to him about the idea behind the place and of the finer things in life.
An idea is brewed
“Back in 2005-2006, I started brewing my own beer at home as a hobby while I was working with a technology firm in the US. It’s a pretty popular hobby there,” says Ajay. The hobby soon got serious, and he joined the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, one of America’s oldest brewing schools, to perfect his craft. “At this point I was quite certain I wanted to start something of my own one day,” he adds.
Ajay met a lot of people to discuss the idea of a microbrewery, but he had a breakthrough when he met Kamal and Shibanee Sagar of Total Environment. “Kamal really liked the whole micro-brewery concept and he suggested I join him in starting something like this. He always wanted to set up a place to celebrate music and invite artists from across the world to perform,” he recalls.
Windmills Craftworks has been around for over a year and eight months now, and they’ve seen traction that they had never expected. “We see about 300 people a day, which is roughly 10,000 a month. This is double of what we expected! We weren’t geared for those numbers but we’re learning, expanding and upsizing the system,” reveals Ajay.
Behind the scenes
The brewing is overlooked by brew-master Ed Tringali who Ajay had met while in the US. Chef Manjit, Founder of Bangalore-based Herbs & Spices, consults on the food and the hiring of chefs. “Everything that we do at Windmills was started with the mindset that it should be scalable enough to do more. We are looking to expand and take our brand to Pune and Hyderabad. In fact, with the sort of crew we have, we can take our brand anywhere in the world. Our brew-master is from the US and our head chef is from London,” he explained.
In the food industry, the average production cost of food is 33% of the total cost, the production cost of liquor is close to 25% and the production cost of beer is a mere 10% of the total cost. “In the US, they call beer liquid gold. Essentially, the more you sell the more you make,” says Ajay. He hopes that they’ll be able to distribute beer in kegs and bottles someday.
All the brewing equipment is from the US and it was brought down to Bangalore in containers. They brought along engineers from the US for the installation, and it was complete in less than 10 days. “That was the easiest bit about setting up in Bangalore. Everything else took more than a year to complete after that,” reveals Ajay. A lot of the ingredients used at Windmills are imported: Malt from Europe, pork ribs from Germany, salmon from Scotland and lamb from New Zealand. “Our imports get caught up at customs, and they don’t know what to do with it. We worked closely with Toit and Arbor Brewing Company to help set up a lot of regulations here since we were one of the first few to set up shop here,” he adds.
“The restaurant business is a hands-on business and cannot be run remotely. I spend a lot of time on the floor connecting with the customers and that’s what brings them back. The music isn’t too loud (the acoustic insulation keeps a check on that), the beer and the food is really good to ensure you can have a conversation with the person you’ve come with,” says Ajay. The music has gained a lot of mileage in newspapers, magazines and social media; there’s a lot of build-up before the high profile events that take place once a month. When it comes to dealing with competitors and maintaining a steady inflow of customers, the geographical isolation of Bangalore plays a huge part. “I actually thank the Bangalore traffic. If you live in Indiranagar you will not come here, and if you live in Whitefield you will not go there. However, it does spoil our plans for working on a brewery crawls that we wanted to start,” he adds.
Food and drink
“Good food and drink should appeal to you at a sensory level – it should give you goosebumps,” says Ajay, and I completely agree. The menu at Windmills has been crafted to match the American beer and American music (jazz) – its American food essentially with signature offerings in Fillet of Beef, Onion Rings and Chicken Wings. The German Pork Ribs are one of their best-selling entrees. For those who want to dig into kebabs with their beer, they won’t be disappointed, since there’s a separate Indian menu as well. “Bangalore’s always had a strong beer culture even before the micro-breweries came up. It was surprising to see how well people are exposed to the different types of beer. We thought it would take at least 6 months before people started making bold decisions with their beer, but it took much less time. They know the difference between ales and lagers, and it’s very encouraging. The Indian Pale Ale (IPA) is the hoppiest (hoppiest means bitter!) beer, very hard for a novice to handle it, and we sell lots of it!” explains Ajay.
Confident, friendly and attentive – that’s the service motto at Windmills. There’s a steady focus on following an American model of service where the servers start a conversation with and gets to know their guests. “We encourage them to enjoy their work and we have welfare schemes and frequent events where they feel connected to the business. We are very transparent when it comes to pay; they know the sort of collections we have,” reveals Ajay. “When it comes to service, I think the Oberoi is fantastic. It’s definitely our benchmark,” he adds.
Consistency of local raw materials and produce is one of the biggest hurdles for Windmills. “What comes out from the kitchen is at the mercy of our suppliers. There’s an issue with the food consistency with 5% of our customers everyday. The sad part is no one remembers the 95 people who had a great time, but they will remember the 5 that made the most noise,” rues Ajay. Speaking about feedback, Windmills takes all the feedback they receive on their comment cards very seriously. At the same time, anonymous feedback on portals like Zomato and Burrp don’t go down very well with the management. “If you write an anonymous feedback, we can’t really do much about it,” he says.
“There needs to be a lot of passion to get craft beer right. I think Bangalore can become the brewing capital of India. We have recently formed something called the Brewers Association of India where we’re trying to get to a point with the Tourism Ministry to work on the concept for Brewery tourism,” he signs-off.
We paid for what we ate and drank (Double Cheese Burger, Fillet of Beef, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Strawberry Financier with White Chocolate Mousse, Hefeweizen and Stout).
Take a look at Windmills Craftworks' website here.
This story is a part of the 'F&B Entrepreneurs' series presented in association with 'Chilli Paneer - A DBS Production'.