The journey of Kainaz Contractor from a food writer to managing Rustom's

19th Aug 2015
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Kainaz Contractor, 28, a B.Com graduate by education, restaurant manager by training and food writer by profession always wanted to run her own restaurant, ever since she could remember. Her dream of running a restaurant made her decide that she would “Spend her 20’s learning about all aspects of a restaurant. The idea was to learn as much as I could before I could start my own place,” tells Kainaz.


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Of the three non-hotel management graduates to be selected for the management training programme at the Taj Group of Hotels, she was one. Usually trainees aim for the front desk but Kainaz’s focus was on Food and Beverage service and managing restaurants. She used her time training constructively with the Vietnamese restaurant Blue Ginger in Bangalore and finally as a restaurant manager at Pure in Land’s End, Mumbai learning the ropes. Post her training, she moved to writing about food and after a series of writing stints with TimeOut Mumbai (as an intern) and working with Burrp on a new editorial driven website, she became the Assistant Food Editor at BBC Good Food magazine. BBC Good Food opened up a lot of avenues for her, like access to a test kitchen, experimenting with relatively unknown ingredients, writing about local and sustainable food producers, creating her own recipes and interacting with and interviewing people in the food space from across the world. And this expanded her horizons.

Through the stories I worked on, I got to delve deeper into the history of food, learn about forgotten local ingredients and interact and learn from a network of respected Indian chefs,

says Kainaz. Equipped with this background, her will to start a restaurant, consolidated further. It was a now or never moment for her. That is when Kainaz shifted to Delhi to open her first restaurant, Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu, in association with Rahul Dua (of Café Lota fame).

The beginning

To test waters, even when the restaurant was under construction, Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu set up a limited delivery menu and the response to the food was phenomenal. With a confidence boost in their kitty, Rahul Dua and Kainaz Contractor, opened up their labour of love Rustom’s in Delhi in February 2014 and there has been no looking back.

Living the dream

Kainaz had shared her restaurant dream with Rahul Dua, 28, a trained sommelier, who was also with her

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during her hotel management training days and was now managing the immensely popular Cafe Lota, which serves progressive Indian cuisine in Delhi. It only helped that Rahul harboured a similar ambition. Together, Kainaz and Rahul figured that it is almost impossible to get Parsi home cooked food in Delhi, unless someone opens the door to their house for you. “We understood that there was a real gap in the market for home style Parsi food and that’s how Rustom’s started taking shape. We decided that Rustom’s would be a restaurant serving home-style food beyond salli boti and mutton dhansak. We wanted Rustom’s to be a small, intimate dining place where people would feel right at home,” explains Kainaz. “The decision to serve food at Rustom’s exactly how it is prepared in my home has been received very well by all our guests looking for Parsi home food. With every dish our focus is always on achieving the right balance between sweet, sour and spicy which is the foundation of Parsi food,” she says.Food is my specialisation

Kainaz grew up eating hearty Parsi meals at home, cooked by her aunt and mother with recipes passed on by her grandmother. To learn more about her family recipes, she took it upon herself and spent a month at her aunt’s home at Nagpur learning the more unfamiliar and complicated Parsi dishes. “The success of Parsi food is based on the perfect blend of spices and I don’t compromise on that, so I get my homemade spice blends all the way from my aunt in Nagpur, so that my diner can get a taste of true-blue Parsi food.”

Challenges

With the food taken care of, Kainaz and Rahul had a tough task of getting a business plan together and look for funding. Since both of them did not have any prior experience at either, they did a lot of online

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research, attended seminars, spoke to friends from the industry and started working on a plan. Once their business plan was ready, the question of funding came up. One thing that was clear from the beginning was that the restaurant would be small because they did not want too much of a financial burden. Also, they wanted to learn as much as they could with this venture. With this in mind, getting an investor on board was ruled out and they turned to family and friends for help.Kainaz started work on the recipes and did trials at home. Both Kainaz and Rahul had a fair idea of restaurant operations and the hiccups on that count were less. But they drew a blank when it came to building a restaurant from scratch. Right from getting licences to finding a place to set up shop, they did all of it for the very first time. The first-time entrepreneurs turned to friends from the industry to guide them through the basics of restaurant architecture and interior design. But the duo had to be hands on with every minute detail right from space design, staff training, plumbing, electrical and interior design. Kainaz laughs and confesses that, “Looking back there are a lot of things we would have done differently but this experience has definitely equipped us with a greater understanding of the entrepreneurial aspects of starting a restaurant; looking beyond the day-to-day operations.”

All challenges seem small, when at the end of the day the diners at Rustom’s come up to Kainaz and praise the food with statements like, it tasted just like food we’ve eaten at our Parsi friend’s home. That is the moment when all her years of learning start to bear results.

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