The Flea Bazaar Cafe in Lower Parel’s Kamala Mills. (Photographer: Vishal Patel/BloombergQuint)

A New And Improved Restaurant Model? Or Food Court 2.0?

In 21st century Mumbai, perhaps because of the soaring costs of everything from real estate to transport, shops and businesses are turning towards the sharing economy model.

Taxi aggregators are offering ride sharing services, co-working spaces are becoming common place, and Airbnb is giving traditional hospitality a run for its money. It seems, the restaurant business might be in for a change too.

You might argue that food courts have existed for decades. You’ve probably been to several at the various malls that have cropped up in urban India. But, Riyaz Amlani, the chief executive officer and managing director of Impressario, is of the opinion that his recently launched Flea Bazaar Cafe in Mumbai’s Lower Parel, is a break from the norm.

Amlani, who through Impressario, runs several successful restaurants in the city, said, “I think it’s a collaborative venue. In my head, it is a music festival with a lot of food punctuated. There will be live performances. It’s a fun place, not as sterile as a food court.”

As part of the model, Amlani has connected with several chefs that are looking to set up shop, but don’t have the wherewithal or resources, and some established businesses that are looking to diversify.

Among the 14 food brands that have set up shop at the Flea Bazaar Cafe are new-age brands like The Bohri Kitchen, Watsappam and Lucknowee Tunday Kebaab, which brings the spices and flavours of the Lucknow’s iconic Tunday Kebaab to the Maximum City.

For The Bohri Kitchen, which so far has served guests at the home of its proprietors - Nafisa Kapadia and son Munaf - this is the first time the mother-son duo has moved their kitchen outdoors.

Munaf, a former Google employee, who quit his job to enter the food business joked that his parents were not thrilled with his decision to leave a lucrative career to sell mutton samosas.

The Bohri Kitchen’s DIY Thaal served at the Flea Bazaar Cafe
The Bohri Kitchen’s DIY Thaal served at the Flea Bazaar Cafe

“We opened a delivery outlet, which is doing very well. I figured that the next step is to open a restaurant. I did two days of research and I realised I don’t have the courage to do that. it is very scary for someone from a middle class family to take that plunge,” he said.

Is it Scalable?

The businesses that have joined hands with the Flea Bazaar Cafe are operating on a revenue share model. The cost of setting-up and the technicalities involved in getting the requisite permissions are taken care of by Amlani’s Impressario, he said.

In a city where renting out property in central business districts is a daunting prospect to say the least, this model allows would-be restaurateurs to test the waters and establish their brands.

The deals that are struck by the individual businesses with Impressario are on a case-to-case basis, Amlani said. He also clarified that he doesn’t own any part in the businesses that currently operate within his premises.

“It’s a highly over regulated environment for young food entrepreneurs. I think they are better served focusing on the product and customer experience. And letting old guys like me worry about the non-fun things,” said the 43-year-old Amlani.

The current rendition of the Flea Bazaar Cafe is a pilot. The fixtures could potentially see some churn. If it works, Amlani sees no reason why it can’t be taken to central business districts not just in Mumbai, but also to other metropolitan cities.