After conquering Mumbai and Pune and opening an outpost in London, food entrepreneur Saransh Goila, creator of the eponymous butter chicken, set his eyes on southern India this month as he opened an outlet of Goila Butter Chicken (GBC) in the heart of Bengaluru. Like his other outlets, this one too is takeaway and delivery-only, a model Goila favours for his brand, which focuses on doing a few things well. The menu is spare and focused, with a few tikkas as appetizers, chicken and paneer curries (including, of course, butter chicken and paneer butter masala), dal makhani, and rolls, though Goila says he has made a few small hat-tips to Bengaluru’s food preferences.

In a conversation with Lounge, the former TV chef and food show host talks about coming to Bengaluru before Delhi, his plans for his brand, and how the pandemic has changed everything:

What made you open an outlet in Bengaluru before Delhi, the home of butter chicken?

I get a lot of hate for not going to Delhi. But to be honest, it’s a market decision. Delhi has its fair share of great butter chicken. From a purely business perspective, Goila Butter Chicken may not have the same pull in Delhi, which is an oversaturated market as far as butter chicken is concerned. Of course we will go to Delhi at some point, but we want to first cater to markets that don’t have great butter chicken.

Why are your restaurants delivery-focused?

As the pandemic has shown us, delivery is here to stay and here to grow. So many restaurants that were based on the dining-in model have had to pivot to delivery during this time. We always believed that our product was one that travelled well and we have been takeaway and delivery only (it also reduces overhead costs and keeps operations lean). In Bengaluru, too, we will continue to follow this and that’s why our outlet is centrally located so that we can cater to most parts of the city.

And how do you plan to do that?

We have tied up with Swiggy and Zomato, of course, as well as with Dunzo, which has a strong presence in Bengaluru. We want to keep the delivery time within 45 minutes which is why currently we are serving customers within a 10 km radius. We are aware that the city has spread wider than that, so if customers beyond that distance want to place orders through Dunzo or other delivery apps, they can do so, and we are of course open for takeaway as well.

How did you weather the pandemic?

We kept out outlets in Mumbai (in Bandra, Chembur, Powai, Andheri Lokhandwala and Goregaon) open. For a while, we provided meals for the local community and daily-wage workers. We didn’t fire anybody though we couldn’t offer everyone their full salary for 3 months, though that has gone back to normal now. This year has been bad for all of us, and the F&B community has to also give back. In Bengaluru, we have a tie-up with World Hunger Warriors Foundation and before opening the restaurant, we did a food drive in slums in Koramangala where we fed nutritious millet khichri to over 200 people. We want to make this a regular activity and have promised to send Goila Butter Chicken gift boxes to everyone who contributes to this cause.

What was the rationale behind entering a new market during the pandemic?

We did consider postponing the Bengaluru launch but then we realised that the pandemic is here to stay and we had to work around it. Also, there was a window of opportunity to partner with a local group, A2Z Hospitality (helmed by Bengaluru F&B entrepreneurs Vishal Nagpal and Amit Roy). They have a lot of local understanding and expertise, which has definitely helped us set up in a new market. So we couldn’t wait for things to go back to “normal” before venturing out of Maharashtra.

Are you starting low-key in Bengaluru?

Goila Butter Chicken
Goila Butter Chicken

Not really, we are starting at similar volumes as our Mumbai outlets, at around 25kg of butter chicken a day and will scale up as we go along. Across the cities we are present in, we are 25% lower levels of sales than pre-covid numbers and we feel it will take another nine months for the market to recover fully. Consumer sentiment is still low.

Any additions to the menu keeping local tastes in mind?

We definitely want to introduce a Malabar Parotta With Butter Chicken combo because we realised they complement each others’ tastes very well. We also plan to introduce GBC kebabs here, because Bengaluru loves its kebabs, and maybe we will take it to other markets as well.

What kind of food comes to mind when you think of…

Home: Sindhi kadhi and mutter wale chawal

Party: Awadhi mutton biryani

Joy: Fresh, piping hot jalebis

Love: Of course, it’s got to be butter chicken!

'The New Normal' is a series of interviews with chefs, restaurateurs and stakeholders in the Food & Beverage industry on coping with Covid-19.