Take a bao: How is entrepreneur Avantika Saraogi shaping the post-work gastro culture in Kolkata?
Entrepreneur Avantika Saraogi is many things — a fine art photographer, a competent horse-rider, an architect of the new-age culinary culture in Kolkata and a partner for two of the most prolific millennial-approved gastro joints in the city — Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao.
The Kolkata girl has successfully managed to introduce India’s first gastro pub (Monkey Bar) in the city with partners Chetan Rampal and Chef Manu Chandra and has led it to a thriving success. Its popularity led to the opening of the gastropub The Fatty Bao Kolkata in December 2017.
But shaping the gastro culture of city like Kolkata is no mean feat, and we catch up with Saraogi to understand what it really takes to make the crowds coming back.
Why did you decide to bring Monkey Bar to the city?
It’s a long story. I developed a taste for interesting cuisines and flavours pretty early on as my family would travel a lot. And back then, I’ve always felt that Kolkata was a little behind in that aspect. I was in Mumbai and I was pursuing photography when I decided that I want to explore the food spectrum, and started interning with The Olive Group (which owns The Fatty Bao and Monkey Bar) because before starting a business, I needed to familiarise myself with all the aspects of the sector. The company was very interested in bringing Monkey Bar to Kolkata, so it made sense.
The Fatty Bao is a gastropub and Monkey Bar is a gastrobar. How are they different?
The Fatty Bao is of course, more food-centric while Monkey Bar is driven by the crowd who are there to have a drink and they also happen to like the food.
What have been some of the most significant challenges for you?
The work culture in the city has been a bit of a challenge. Licensing has also been a hassle for us. In spite of some of the basic operational challenges, I have to say the city has been incredibly kind to us.
What do you think earns you the more repeat customers?
Luckily, 80 per cent of our customer base are repeat customers, which is a huge deal for any restaurant. It means we are doing something right and those who have tried it, appreciate that. Kolkata has a surprising demand for vegetarian numbers but of course, we there’s a focus on seafood and pork specialities as well; but it’s funny, most of the sushi that we sell are vegetarian.
At times even the seafood lovers do not want to go for raw fish! In terms of palates, Kolkata prefers spicier playful profiles.
Has the social media boom helped your ventures?
Definitely. The social media presence has been extremely crucial for us, in terms of the visual connect. It’s so relevant to what we do. In fact, even when we have wanted to make a statement, like when we switched to stainless steel straws and moved away from plastic alternatives, we got a lot of attention from the people of the city. I remember it was a simple post but we found an amazing reaction to it.
One change you want to see in Kolkata’s culinary scene?
Kolkata’s gastro culture has really evolved. There are so many newer ventures opening up which motivate us to reach out, as it adds a competition value and I hope this keeps growing.