It’s Tuesday morning in Mumbai and we’re on our way to Indigo Deli where we’re going to meet owner and chef Rahul Akerkar. “Time for breakfast and a good cup of coffee,” says Maarten as we walk towards Indigo with the Gateway of India at the end of the street.
Together with his wife Malini, Rahul runs a series of restaurants and deli’s in Mumbai, which they manage under the umbrella of their hospitality company, deGustibus. Their restaurant Indigo, which serves European-style food, was listed on the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List in 2013 and has won an array of other awards and prizes.
“I’m curious to hear about his background,” I say. “You know he’s American-Indian and was on a PhD programme at Columbia University in biochemical engineering?”
“Really? Sound like an interesting career path!” says Maarten.
Five minutes later, Rahul has found us a table at the deli and we’re sipping on a perfect caffè latte.
“So Rahul, how did you get into the restaurant business? I read you were well on your way to becoming a research scientist in biochemical engineering!”
Rahul smiles. “Yeah, that’s how it started out, but then things changed. I got disillusioned with research and academia. All through college and grad school, I had been working in restaurants, in New York. Cooking had really become a passion and so I decided to go back to India to open my own restaurant.
“I started with catering work. It gave me experience, and allowed me to understand the Indian palate’s acceptance of western food. It also meant that when we opened our first restaurant, I already had a following. So the risk was relatively low.
“We opened our first restaurant in Bombay in 1992 and then moved to Bangalore three years later to run a small boutique hotel. We returned to Bombay in 1997 and finally opened Indigo in 1999, in a picturesque bungalow in a street behind the Taj Hotel. And, which is not common in this city, after 15 years, we are still around and doing very well.
“So, what we heard is correct. With Indigo, you were the first in Mumbai to open up a stand-alone fine dining restaurant, the culture being that these restaurants used to be inside hotels only. Setting a trend actually,” says Maarten.
“And today you have a hospitality company and you own a whole series of restaurants right?” I ask.
“That’s right,” says Rahul. “We’ve grown immensely and deGustibus Hospitality will soon have over 1,000 employees. Besides Indigo and the Indigo Delis in Mumbai, we have Neel and Tote on the Turf.”
“What sets your restaurants and delis apart from other places in Mumbai?” I ask.
“Hospitality!” says Rahul. “We have always taken a warm, personal approach to hospitality – going that extra mile to make our guests feel special is something we have believed in right from the start. We are purveyors of the ‘can do’ kind of hospitality.”
“I think we can vouch for that!” I say. “Breakfast was delicious and the coffee was excellent. So what are your plans for the future?”
“We have lots of ideas for extensions, but in the immediate we’re focusing on Delhi and first opening Indigo and then several delis there.”
“So next time we’re in Delhi, we should look out for Indigo! We’ll come and look you up!”
“My pleasure,” says Rahul. “You’re always welcome!”
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