I recently got back from a trip to India. As expected, I had a great time meeting everyone and creating new bonds while also rekindling some old friendships. It has been a while since I entertained the idea of writing a blog about the life of a restaurant owner and its workforce. Honestly, I don’t know how you will come to perceive it since I don’t consider myself to be much of a writer. Speaking has always come easier, but my mantra for this exercise is to be straightforward and deliver from the heart.
I grew up in New Delhi and went to a school that was founded by a disciple of the mother (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirra_Alfassa)and Indian nationalist turned spiritual reformer, Sri Aurobindo (http://savitrithepoem.com/the-poem/authors-biography.html). On myrecent trip back to India earlier this year, I decided to visit Pondicherry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puducherry ), where this so-mentioned Sri Aurobindo and the mother had established something known as“Aurovile”, a unique experimental township dedicated towards establishing a new way of life and thinking. After 30 years (time truly does fly) I was also reacquainted with a classmate of mine from high school there, who is a true devotee of the Mother. She and her husband decided to settle down in this small French-inspired coastal town, where the old part of the city runs along the boardwalk. It’s filled with small hotels, Ayurvedic centers and spas that attract a lot of tourists. The French architecture is predominant, but the locals referto it as the western area as if it does not truly belong.These same people we met however were so loving, simple and eager to please. I wondered if it is because each one of them is truly content from the inside and able to transcend that feeling into everyone who comes in their contact.
During my weekly and monthly meetings with the staff of my restaurants, we always talk about “parking our egos at the door”. I’ve always thought that first and foremost we need to be comfortable with who we are and realize our own strengths or weaknesses. Then don’t try to cover up your weaknesses and refrain from showing off your strengths too much. Simple as it sounds, it becomes very difficult to implement in any person’s day to day workings. What the successful entrepreneurs realize early on is that you learn most by talking to people, but even more by listening to them carefully. Pay attention to what they are saying instead of alreadythinking about a response in your own mind. As a small-business owner, it is your job to create an environment where both your guests and your colleagues are comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas. This allows us to lift each other from mediocrity however you may define it. We are all intelligent creatures, to me that is a given. However, are we smart enough to take our egos and park them to ask for help?
I have been in the hospitality industry for almost thirty years now and it’s been quite a journey. I had the good fortune of studying in Europe at the age of seventeen as a wide-eyed teenager from the delirium of Delhi. My initial days and weeks in Austria were very tough,as I struggled to adapt to the new German language, food and people in the Salzburg area. Many times I wanted to quit my education there and go back to India, where I would not feel so out of place. Nevertheless, I learned to keep pushing myself every day and able to make friends who welcomed me with open arms. As I picked up the native language from my Austrian and German friends, they in turn wanted to learn English from meand we all started helping each other in mysterious ways. To this date I still have friends who stay in touch with me and in 2010 when I went back to my college in Salzburg for my 25th reunion, it was a nostalgic experience to say the least. It made me proud that I had stuck with it and that much more appreciative of having the opportunity to say so.
The single biggest influence on my life growing up as a kid though was my grandfather.He always preached “Never run after money, let the money run after you”, which to date is my favorite lesson learned from anyone. My father on the other hand taught me the value of hard work and compassion for your team. It is not about your individual success, but about the wellbeing of those who are working for you. Their intellectual growth and happiness will in turn make you feel and perform better. Although my father rarely spoke about such matters to me, I observed him closely and learntsuch principles from him. From my mother I alsolearned the ability to tolerate. She would stay with my father in the worst possible conditions on constructionsites both in India and abroad,but never complain once. If she did…I never heard it and never will. Like every parental unit, mine shaped my intellect over the years and they continue to do so till this date. That is the power we have over oneanother. We are constantly learning from others without even realizing it, especially the ones we are in close contact with.
I have now been in the Indian restaurant business for 23 years. It has been nothing, but a phenomenal experience to own a small business I can call my own. Whenever I doubt myself now, I turn to my wife and wish I had developed this habit a little earlier on in my life. My principle of management is very simple and can be summarized in two words:“Intellectual Honesty”. I don’t like to put on a face and show everyone that I understand something when I don’t. I ask for help from everyone around me when it is beyond my grasp. I really love what I do and never miss an opportunity to learn more while doing it. Most importantly though I leave my ego at the house where it is safest…in the custody of my dear wife!