AD Singh On 33 Years In The Food Industry, His Journey & Vision

Good dishes and great food experiences cannot be rushed, and veteran restaurateur AD Singh believes this to be at the very core of his philosophy. AD Singh has been a restaurateur since 1990, so it has been 33 years since he opened his first restaurant. Around 23 years ago, he started Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra, Mumbai. Three years later, AD Singh expanded Olive to Delhi’s Qutub area. 20 years on, AD Singh’s Olive Group is one of the most prominent names in the Indian food industry with renowned restaurant brands like Monkey Bar, Soda Bottle Opener Wala and Lavaash By Saby apart from Olive. 

Over a long and illustrious career, AD Singh has taken the Indian restaurant space from one that just catered food to one that creates and curates food experiences the Indian foodie will never forget. In conversation with Slurrp, AD Singh revealed just how he painstakingly made his way in the Indian food industry along with the many chefs, businesses and even NGOs that he has partnered with. Here is everything he had to say.  

Starting With A Sweet Tooth: How His Career Started 

Throughout our conversation with AD Singh, what came out most prominently was the stark difference between the time when he started out as an entrepreneur and what the business space in India looks like now. “I’d left my corporate job and was looking around to do something that was more suited to my personality and vision,” Ad Singh says. “This was in 1988, and India at that time didn’t have too many cafes, restaurants, multiplexes, etc. I thought I wanted to do something I enjoyed and I stumbled upon being an entrepreneur at a time when entrepreneurship opportunities were much less.” 

This did not hold him back, especially since he had a unique business idea in mind: to open a desserts-only place at an existing cafe in Mumbai after it closes to extend business hours and offer people a new experience. “In 1990, I opened Just Desserts in Mumbai,” AD Singh explains. “I’ve always had a sweet tooth and for a young person at that time, there was no chance of buying these fabulous desserts. I thought it would be a great idea if we could offer people single portions of more affordable desserts. Just Desserts was a sensation because there was nothing like that at the time for people like us! The desserts were very good, the coffee was average and there was music. We had people coming in from day one.” 

The Making Of Olive Bar & Kitchen 

AD Singh explains that the concept for Olive Bar & Kitchen was born while he was on a holiday in Thailand with his family. “I found that every day, I used to go and sit at the same place and it was always packed,” he says. “I wondered what I liked about that one spot that I would go back to every day and I realised that I liked the relaxed, laidback vibe the most. The food, coffee, jazz, it all added up to make a very nice ambience. So, when I came back to Mumbai, I thought I’d like to open a place with a nice vibe where people could sit and spend hours chatting, eating, singing and dancing. That was at the core of the vision behind Olive Bar & Kitchen.”  

While he had a vision in place, making it a reality was time-taking and had its own challenges. “At that time, nearly 20-23 years ago, the idea of restaurants in India was very tightly defined,” he says. “There were places where you went to eat and places where you went to dance. What I tried to do was create a space that not only gave you great food but also a great experience of eating out. Everything in one place and you can spend hours there. This was also the core idea whenever we opened a new branch of Olive, that you cannot rush people. If they want to sit all evening or simply come and read a book, they are most welcome to.”  

Inspired by Grecian vibes, Olive was created with a Mediterranean look and feel. Today, whether you visit the first Olive branch in Mumbai, the one in Delhi or any other place, you will still feel that welcoming vibe—even when you are eating alone or just there for a relaxed cup of coffee or get-together with friends. Over the decades, Olive has also emerged as a space where food events, pop-ups and curated menus are hosted for a wide range of customers seeking varieties of experiences. This success of Olive also fostered a space where growing talent in the food industry could find their own voice too. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Chef Anahita Dhondy

Looking After People And Fostering Culinary Talent 

You may already know all about how renowned Indian chefs like Sabyasachi Gorai, Manu Chandra and Anahita Dhindy Bhandari started out with AD Singh’s Olive Group and then went on to create their own signature brands. “I’m not a good cook myself and it’s not like I have a great palate, but the process of creation drives me,” AD Singh quips. “Having a vision for a place and then fleshing it out in all its aspects, including getting a chef or partner on board, is what I enjoy the most. In the case of all the chefs I’ve worked with, I liked their work ethic, their approach and their own vision.” 

“The core part of my own philosophy with which I opened this company, Olive Group, was the idea of looking after people,” he adds. “Whoever joins you should be well looked after. When you make money, share it with them, make them happy, address their concerns and try to help them in their own careers. And we also made it a point to highlight each and every talented chef, give them their due credit and showcase them. Many of them went on to leave us to pursue their aspirations, but the journey has always been great. We have all grown together.” 

Creating A Future Of Positive Change 

In recent years, AD Singh hasn’t just continued to work on his restaurant projects with talented Indian chefs, but has also started focusing on another aspect that many in the food industry are now waking up to. “We all know that there are plenty of challenges our country still faces because of poverty,” he explains. “For the last few years, I’ve literally tried to focus on hunger among children, especially because it not only leads to malnutrition but also inhibits their ability to learn and grow. The scope of the problem is immense, so we started Kitchens Against Hunger to address it as best as we could. One part of the initiative is to charge a voluntary amount of Rs 10 across many of our restaurants from our customers and we add more from our revenues.”  

“It might seem like a small amount, but over a year, it adds up to a lot,” AD Singh explains. “Then we partner with many NGOs who utilise 100% of this amount to feed children. We’d love for more restaurants to start this sort of initiative too. There is a lot that the restaurant industry can do to also minimise waste keeping all the aspects of commercial kitchens in mind. There is no single formula, but I think the industry should stand together to minimise waste and feed the hungry.”