Creating a brand within hospitality

By Nisha Katona, restaurateur and founder of Mowgli Street Food restaurant chain.
I was a child protection barrister for 20 years with absolutely no background in business whatsoever. What I did have a passion for was the way Indians ate at home. The idea – that perhaps if I was addicted to these dishes, there was a market for them – entered my head and reluctantly it came alive.

Everything I had saved and earned went into building that first Mowgli. I would work full-time in court in the daytime, then physically build it myself in the evening – that’s how it started. Unbelievably, within about three weeks, a queue started to form.Within five weeks we got our first offer of investment, which was just a miracle. And it was three months in, when I knew this rope was safe enough to swing across to, that I gave up being a barrister.

If you’re lucky enough to have a job, don’t give it up. Keep your day job, work two jobs, get four hours’ sleep – do whatever it takes to make sure that the other proposition is a secure one. You don’t wait to put yourself and your dependents in the face of financial risk. Remember that just because you have a great idea, the world does not owe you a living!

In terms of the brand itself, I have a unique vision as will everyone who starts a business – my background is different. Everything about the way I’m building my business comes from the experiences I had growing up as an immigrant in England and through my time in India. I built Mowgli alone, in isolation. I don’t look to other businesses for a steer; I just think about the ones that have lasted a long time and I assess that their success is down to the addictive nature and affordability of their food. I am the executive chef and I am the development chef of Mowgli.

Every single dish on Mowgli’s menu has got a story, a technique and an anthropology, and it’s that that I can teach every chef and server that comes to work for us.

This gives mostly a continued homespun feel. If one’s food is reasonable and overheads are reasonable, then now is a really good time to bring good food to the market, because people are hunkering down – they eat out more often at places that are cheap and this is encouraging news for any food entrepreneurs. The market is strong. Take heart.

People are really thinking about where they spend their money and they want accountability. Very often they want a face behind a business, they want that humanity.

The most direct way for you to express what your culture is, is from the founder of the CEO themselves. Nothing is more direct. And people are more and more demanding about what the philosophy is behind every element of the business.

I think it is important to share the journey, warts and all, because budding entrepreneurs need to understand what life is
like in the field. I need to understand that not only is success possible, but each of us has the chance to build great businesses around really unique humane gifts – that’s what this industry needs.