'YOUnion is the antithesis of what we do': Zorawar Kalra on his new bar-restaurant in Mumbai
In the past seven years, Zorawar Kalra has opened 32 restaurants across nine brands - Masala Library, Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya and Bo-Tai among others. As Zorawar ventures into a casual space with his 33rd restaurant YOUnion in Mumbai, he tells Indulge what made him enter a new space, his plans of becoming a global brand and entering, and his upcoming restaurant dedicated to his father - Czar of Indian cuisine Jiggs Kalra. Excerpts:
Q: Tell us about YOUnion. What sets it apart from the rest?
ZK: It is a bar and restaurant targetting the youth and millennials. One can spend basically the entire day here - we have breakfast trays, coffee, all-day comfort food, a bar and full-time magicians. What sets us apart is that we have introduced a really extensive shot menu that comprises of 200 options. We have got four robots who would be serving the shots, the glassware is specially crafted for this place and is imported from London and we have also got stormtrooper helmet, which is designed by the same person in London who designs props for Hollywood, for community cocktails. Also, I feel, this is also the best-priced bar, the shots are starting at Rs 50.
Q: And, what would be on the menu?
ZK: It is ‘cuisine agnostic’, it will feature global comfort food. Think of things that you craved in the past week, it will be there in the menu.
Q: In the invite, it was said that this place pays homage to millennials. What do you mean?
ZK: It caters to their sensibilities. It has got a very high energy vibe, this space is very Instagrammable and there is a lot of innovation - robots, star war props, etc. Basically, everything to get their attention.
Q: What made you venture into a casual space?
ZK: I have always had spaces where people would come for food and drinks but afterwards they, especially the youth, would go to other places to enjoy. And, I thought why don’t I have these places that they are heading to! So, we studied our restaurants and realised that we were always serious about food and were fine dining or fine-casual sort of company. This bar and restaurant is the antithesis of all of that and perhaps the most relaxed place. You are allowed even in chappals. Kids (under 12) are allowed until 7 pm and those who are 12 and above are around all around.
Q: Where did you draw your inspiration from for YOUnion?
ZK: I have seen the concept of shot bars in Barcelona but a stand-alone shot bar won’t function well in India. So, we added other elements like community cocktails, drinks programme where you earn points and gets discounts. And, we are also in the process of developing a drink now and pay later scheme, where you can spend your whole month drinking and pay your bill at the end of the month when your salary comes.
Q: Your father has overlooked the food in every restaurant of yours. How big a loss is he to Massive Restaurants? And, how much was he involved in YOUnion?
ZK: Huge. He was our pillar of support and our encyclopedia to whom we would go to whenever we would develop a menu, concept or recipe. He usually comes around the menu development stage but he wasn’t involved much in YOUnion as he wasn’t keeping well. But, he knew it is a bar and had, therefore, asked me to develop it sensibly. He said, ‘you will be dealing with the youth so promote the right things’. That’s why, we came up with a sensible drinking programme where if our guests are drunk, they would be discouraged from driving and our staff would book a cab for them.
Q: It has been seven years to Massive Restaurants. How has the journey been so far?
ZK: The journey has been amazing. I was talking to another friend who is in the restaurant business and he said, ‘what you have done in five years, few or none have’. When I look at it, I think we have been lucky - we were at the right place at the right time, we came up with concepts that were relevant and continued to stay relevant and we are blessed with the best possible team.
We are in six countries now including India. We will be operating in the seventh (Oman) country by the end of this month and we will be there in at least 10 countries by the end of December. So, we are truly going to be a global brand - Masala Library has just opened in the tallest building in Dubai. Mine and my father’s dream has always been to put Indian food on the global map and that can only be possible by opening really high-quality restaurants across the world. So, that is what our endeavour is.
Q: What’s next?
ZK: We were working on something else but after I lost my father last month, we have decided to open Jiggs, which will be our flagship restaurant and will be a notch above everything else. It will open in South Delhi in about two-three months. It will feature his food - authentic Indian cuisine, which will be untouched by modernity or any form of molecular gastronomy.