Gourmet beer gets trendy: Entrepreneur-doctor Priyanka Gupta on Chandigarh’s best-known microbrewery
Priyanka Gupta, entrepreneur, restaurateur, doctor, along with her husband, Amritanshu, gave North India a microbrewery called Hops n’ Grains. Here's the story of her entrepreneurial journey...
Priyanka Gupta, entrepreneur, restaurateur, medical doctor and philanthropist, along with her husband, Amritanshu, gave North India a microbrewery called Hops n’ Grains. Post the success of this microbrewery, they decided to start a microbrewery for Chandigarh as well, and that is how The Great Bear came into existence. As time was a highly valuable resource, she and Amritanshu divided their time and duties accordingly. Now, despite the growing number of microbreweries in Chandigarh, they believe that Hops n Grains has its own market. They keep improving their food menu and add new flavours of beer every month along with the seasonal lager on tap.
In an exclusive interaction, Priyanka tells YS Weekender all about their entrepreneurship journey and why it is so important to find a good core team.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Can you tell us about your microbreweries Hops n Grains and The Great Bear? What is unique about them?
Hops n Grains was the fifth microbrewery in India. It is almost 10 years old now. We have learnt the art of brewing from the masters themselves. When we started, knowledge was scarce and hard earned but we knew there were no shortcuts. That is why the beer at both Hops n Grains and The Great Bear is so special.
How did you decide to become an entrepreneur and restaurateur after being a doctor? Is this something you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to do multiple things in life. And I could not do multiple things as a doctor. It was a tough decision to let go of medicine. But since then, life has been a great deal of learning and experimentation. Now, I experienced marketing, branding, brewing, entrepreneurship, human resource management to name a few.
Why did you choose this field and what were the challenges along the way?
It was a decision jointly taken by me and my husband who always wanted to open a bar. Microbrewery as a concept was relatively new to India ten years ago. It seemed both challenging and exciting, which is why we took the plunge.
The challenges were innumerable. We had to develop in-house talent to brew the beer. There were no brewers in the industry that one could employ. Right from sourcing the right equipment and machinery to sourcing best quality raw materials, everything was a steep learning curve. The biggest challenge was running the brewing plant and looking after its maintenance since the manufacturers did not provide any support.
Can you explain the concept of a microbrewery and why it is so popular now?
A microbrewery is a restaurant sized beer brewing micro plant that produces beers in small batches. People in India are moving towards better brews and better tasting drinks, especially beers which cannot be catered to by mass-produced cheaper beers. They want gourmet brews and different flavours, that are suited to individual tastes.
How many women come to your microbreweries and what is their response?
We have lot of women coming to our microbreweries. We are especially conscious of the fact that it has to be a woman-friendly place and women must feel comfortable here. In fact, we get lot of women-only groups.
What are some of the flavours that you offer?
Weiss (Wheat Beer), bock beer, Dunkel dark beer and Green Apple Beer are our regulars. We usually have one seasonal beer like strawberry, Kolsch etc. Our Green Apple Beer has been an all-time favourite beer which we used to produce seasonally.
Are cities in North India are known for their love for whisky? How did they transition to beer and how did the change happen?
It’s interesting. Chandigarh used to be a whisky heaven for as long as I remember. I can recall very few people who ever said that their favourite drink was beer. But when they would come to our restaurants and after tasting the beer, they would order the ales. It was just so refreshing to have a freshly brewed beer on tap that people would convert to beer-drinking immediately.
Many doctors say that people should stay away from alcoholic beverages. How did you take up a business that is not known to be healthy?
Well, technically speaking beer has lesser calories than the same amount of cold drink. Fermented foods are gaining such high regard in dietary considerations. And beer is a well-balanced, fermented food. Freshly brewed beers are also rich in vitamin B6, B12 and folates.
What is response to both your breweries and how has the clientele changed over the years?
It was uphill for the first few years. Initially it took lot of energy to educate people about the concept of microbrewery and what it is all about. But once people warmed up to the idea there was no looking back. Now we see more and more beer enthusiasts. And over the years, because of increased awareness, we see people visiting from even Gurugram and Bengaluru and saying that our beer is the best they ever tasted in a microbrewery.
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What was the initial response to a microbrewery, as you were one of the first in the business? Did you have to change the mindset of people?
Yes, there was lot of work to be done. We were the initial few who laid the foundation for microbreweries. People would get confused as to whether a microbrewery has a restaurant or not or if it is actually an eatery at all. That fight is still going on. Now we try to tell that not all microbreweries are the same. Some have a superior product than the others due to their raw materials and better practices.
What kind of cuisine do you serve in your restaurants? How have the tastes of diners changed today?
We serve a mix of Indian, Lebanese, Continental, Chinese and Italian cuisines. We also came up with seasonal menus and tried to give importance to seasonal, fresh produce in those menus.
The dining scene in India has changed massively. We have evolved from heavily upholstered interiors and Mughlai cuisines to a minimalistic décor and light flavourful cuisines. The shift is massive. The diners know what they want and restaurants have to stick to the theme and get it right to make it happen.
How have tastes in liquor changed across the country? What is most popular today?
Without doubt, beer is the new favourite across the country now. It is evident by craft beers like Bira which are gaining popularity now.
With people becoming more health conscious, how do you cope? What are the changes that are coming in?
Good restaurants are trying to have a balanced menu with a fare spread of healthy items. But they have to be items which are popular. And there is increasing awareness of kitchen hygiene and using better raw materials.
What are some of the top beverage and food trends in the world today?
Gastronomy is an art and cultural experience nowadays. It is embedded in the way we holiday and the way we socialise. No-one sticks to one thing anymore. It’s an exciting time to go crazy on experimentation but one can’t let the experiment go out of hand.
What is your favourite beverage and cuisine and why?
My favourite beverage is beer, of course and some of my favourite cuisines are Japanese, Italian and South Indian. It’s like mood of the day. That’s the beauty of gastronomy these days.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
Holidaying and sampling foods. I also love playing with my two kids who are 5 and 1 years old.
How do you juggle your time between your work and your business?
My work is my business and my business is my work. I cannot separate one from the other.
What are your plans for the future where your business is concerned and yourself?
We plan to expand and try to satisfy every taste bud. Beer will always be the heart of our work. As for the rest, destiny and blessings will guide our way.
If the words of writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron who once said,"Writing is what I do... it is like breathing to me..." defined the goals of Ephron's life, it would be Asha's mantra too, as she lives to create word pictures of the people she meets. She believes that the best stories "must move the heart and feed the mind". When she is not working, she loves reading novels and listening to music.