High stakes


The kitchen is a replica of what it is in the US, and is larger than most of the other restaurants in Melbourne at least. The kitchen being a replica of the ones in the US is up to date with the latest kitchenware, from gadgets to the grills, to add that extra something to the Australian steak

By Kanishko Das

It is not everyday that you come across a business mogul who started off at the age of 16. And 30 years on, having seen a plethora of successes, Sanjay Chimnani believes there is much to do and years to pass before he hangs up his boots.

Having begun his career with consumer electronics, Sanjay soon decided to diversify, and ventured into production and distribution of the same. Not too far along the way, he went on to become Chief Executive Officer for Chinese consumer goods giant TCL, incidentally becoming one of the youngest CEOs in the Indian Industrial circles.

So while dealing with brands such as Sony and Hitachi, he created close to 200 franchise stores across India. Switching gears to join the real-estate business in recent years, he signed on as Joint Managing Director of legendary Dubai estate giants, ACI Real Estate. During his tenure he catered to exclusive clientele with the likes of sports greats such as Niki Lauda, Michael Schumacher and Boris Becker embellishing the list. Having liaised with luxury hotel and yacht brands he then diversified his businesses into hospitality and travel. He began a yacht charter company as well, catering to the elite clientele.

Through the same space and time over the years, Sanjay managed to set up several restaurant businesses in India for the ultimate wine and dine experience. He set up the first nightclub in South India, the renowned Bottles and Chimney, in 2003. With its premium service and spotless reputation it became the only Indian nightclub to have featured in the Time Magazine.  He went on to tie his restaurant brand with MTV and VH1 and hosted hit television shows. Bottles and Chimney also tied up with multinationals like Microsoft and HSBC amongst others. He also partially owns, Spoil, an open air lounge and the avant-garde restaurant Siaa, both well known high end destinations in Hyderabad.

Having run several wine and dine businesses over the better part of the last decade along with other ventures, Sanjay recently decided to collaborate with old partners over a restaurant idea he had in mind for a long time. With a few of his ventures slowing down post the global financial crisis, he decided to explore new grounds. So he went back to the US, caught up with his partner, talked over the Luxury Chain’s business model and formulated a deal straight off. And in customary Sanjay style, it all happened really fast. “From start of talks till opening the doors of Bob’s Steak and Chop Steakhouse, it took 15 months of understanding and planning,” he says.

Bobs Steak and Chop Steakhouse, established in 1993, is a traditional American steakhouse chain, owned by the luxurious Omni hotels group. Having successfully operated at six locations in the US, the steakhouse brand decided to expand outside the United States. Sanjay entered into a licensing arrangement with the steakhouse brand and decided to bring it to Australia.

As far as his businesses go, he puts forth a clear cut principle. “I create a business model after thorough research, consultations, calculations and understanding of the trade and get people to run it for the first eighteen months and then put a formal structure in place. Even this time around, I looked for the right opportunity, partners, locations, and architects and then put together a good team having trained them in the US just so we can be prepared in the best possible way. With the model in place — it is to be run for 18 months at the start — I will replicate it,” says Sanjay.

With the help of his team, comprising of real-estate agents, bankers, lawyers and business advisors he gained insight into the local laws of land and ways of life. Consequently, he appointed local business advisors, real estate agents and lawyers to provide him with specific advice to complete his understanding of the locals needs and for him to chalk out the logistics over the fifteen months. For him, the planning had to be thorough before the testing and fine tuning commenced.

The tycoon obviously relishes a challenge when he sees one.  For his first site he had a choice of various locations across Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but he chose the most difficult site in the region, Melbourne.

“Melbourne is obviously one of the more difficult markets to set up a restaurant business in, with more than 4500 restaurants, the extreme competitiveness in the market and with the diversity in the cuisines available as well,” says Sanjay. “But Melbourne ultimately came across as the obvious choice because if we can do it with finesse in our first attempt in Melbourne it would be easier to replicate the model in other locations like Sydney and Singapore rather than the other way around. Plus both people from America and Australia do enjoy a good steak and combining that with the fact that there is a lack of proper American restaurants here in Australia, the obvious choice narrowed down to Melbourne for the Asia Pacific region,” he says.

During the planning stage, over his consultations with business advisors and analysts he also picked up the nuances of the Australian way of life so as to mould the model to meet local customer needs and to iron out any possible difficulties. Yet he maintained the essence of the Steakhouse brand.

“We have kept the soul the same. The kitchen is a replica of what it is in the US, and is larger than most of the other restaurants in Melbourne at least. The kitchen being a replica of the ones in the US is up to date with the latest kitchenware, from gadgets to the grills, to add that extra something to the Australian steak,” Sanjay says.

With the years of experience in the food and drinks industry, Sanjay has taken calculated risks with respect to his model, and avoided a simple cut and paste approach for it to appeal to the Australian taste, palate and culture.

Having dropped the gentleman’s club appeal for a more chic look, Sanjay’s version of the Steakhouse aims to cater to the traditional new age Australian.  From Aussie produce to local vines, some serious planning and research has gone into spreading smiles. The produce sourcing model was inversed as compared to the US where a majority of vines and some ingredients were actually imported. “Now this model will be put to the test, tweaked further if necessary, and expansion will follow into Sydney and Singapore hopefully in the near future. The hard work is done, only the details for the next site need to be sorted out. If this proves to be successful, I may bring some of my own brands from India as well,” says Sanjay.

The Osmania University alumnus, in addition to running businesses, also likes catching up on movies at one-go when he finds time. Being a businessman is almost synonymous with a certain liking for sports as well and Sanjay loves cricket, soccer and Formula One, with leisure activities including travelling with teams to stadiums and circuits. He claims that he is a better businessman than a family man. “But being a better businessman obviously means that one half of my life takes a better part of my time than the other. So it’s more of a work – work balance rather than a work – family balance and in the middle of all that life fits somewhere in the middle” explains Sanjay. With such strong foundations and needless to mention such immense success under his belt, the humble Hyderabad native would continue to make heads turn and scale new heights.