FHS Dubai guest speaker Panchali Mahendra, an industry powerhouse and Michelin star-restaurateur, took time out to sit with HN and talk about trends, her journey to the top and how she was able to transform Atelier House into a profitable firm.
How did you break the glass ceiling and what challenges did you face along the way?
My biggest strength lies in the support mechanism that surrounds me. I have a highly talented and hard-working team that has always been able to execute the vision and growth strategy for our company and our brands. I have a strong mentorship from our CEO and the unconditional support of my family to be ambitious and a go-getter. A solid academic record and close to two decades of experience in enhancing my credentials have put me in good stead to accomplish wonderful things over the years.
The UAE market is extremely challenging because of the sheer number of restaurants — more per capita than most major cities globally. Therefore, I choose to focus on just two or three restaurants per year, ensuring every detail is perfect, the menu is outstanding and the quality is consistent day in and day out. I have always been a believer in creating and not mass producing; that is the only way to succeed, and I believe it is the same for men as it is for women. Early in my career, I did face certain issues, professionally, to make a mark and be given equal opportunities, but today I face no such challenges.
Atelier House is a full-service hospitality firm. What are the secrets behind growing an F&B brand and making it profitable?
My most significant takeaway is that hard work and integrity are always rewarded in the long run, not just in F&B but in any industry. The restaurant business is a full-time commitment that demands strength and courage. It requires you to be hospitable, humble, caring and creatively involved. This industry grooms and hardens you from many angles, and that is why I love being a part of it. Patience is the greatest virtue, as you need the brand to evolve, and there is no room for hasty or quick revenue.
As an expert with almost 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry and 10 years in the Middle East, what are the most prominent F&B trends?
I foresee an increase in the number of pop-ups by renowned chefs, as the world becomes smaller due to media and travel. I also anticipate that the attention will turn toward Dubai because of its recognition in food guides and at award ceremonies. Sustainability and zero-waste initiatives will be taken more seriously than a marketing plug, and the exploration of fusing different cuisines will grow, thus elevating experiential dining.
What are your future plans?
Atelier House will be launching a sustainable restaurant in Dubai in 2023, with modern local cuisine. We are set to open fine-dining Indian restaurant in a very exclusive part of Riyadh. Furthermore, we are developing unique Indian-fusion restaurant, one of the world’s first at an iconic location. Finally, Mohalla franchise in Riyadh is opening a second branch, so we are busy!