Building a Business of Dreams on the cold hard plate of reality is not for the weak hearted. It takes more than just vision, creativity, innovation and peoples-skills. It demands an unusual agility — to juggle numbers, exceed expectations and deal with unimaginable crises at a moment’s notice. SANDEEP SEKHRI and SANDIP GUPTA reveal how DINING CONCEPTS took the test of recent times and passed with flying colours.
No stranger to adversity, veteran restaurateur SANDEEP SEKHRI holds forth on how walking the tightrope between dreams and reality helped DINING CONCEPTS brave recent storms and emerge stronger, not in spite of but rather because of them.
Fans and foes alike admit that Sandeep Sekhri’s success is enviable, if only because his Dining Concepts is a glittering jewel that adorns Hong Kong’s skyline as much as it does, the city’s corporate landscape.
Sekhri’s story underscores Hong Kong’s claim that the territory is fertile soil for any good idea to take root and flourish.
It is a fascinating tale of organic, pragmatic, steady growth but, few (even care to) know the trials and tribulations that dot the growth of Dining Concepts – today, a vibrant mix of 30 ever-changing, increasingly popular restaurants and bars. (Much) below the fanfare and the glare of publicity is an endless saga of trial – rising rents and costs of operations, severe talent crunch, rapidly changing trends etc., and added to all that was Hong Kong’s sudden socio-political crises that punched a gaping hole in the economy, and by extension, the territory’s entertainment sector.
Totally unprepared, an already embattled sector stood straight in the path of the unrest and sadly many good players were forced into history. Dining Concepts, in contrast, seemed oddly prepared.
SPIGA and its famous signature dishes.
When the Going Gets Tough
“No one could have seen this coming,” said Sehkri, of the civil unrest that hit Hong Kong mid-last year. “It took a toll on every business across all sectors and impacted us on every level, personally and professionally. The people-centric entertainment sector was amongst the hardest hit simply because it proved a strain on human resources,” says Sekhri, adding that the overall mood fell to abysmal levels.
“People just weren’t in the usual celebratory mood Hong Kong is so noted for. Tourism fell into what seemed like a bottomless pit and every restaurant watched helplessly as the numbers dwindled.”
“For Dining Concepts, it presented an opportunity. Of course, this is not the preferred way to wrestle with reality but all pain comes only to teach. When it leaves you are left with priceless lessons, learnt albeit at a great price.”
“I’ve had an unshakeable faith in the Hong Kong people. They are passionate go-getters, pragmatic, sensible and resilient. Hong Kong will rebound to shine brighter than before.” — Sandeep Sekhri
How did Dining Concepts ride out this storm, then? “It brought us back to the basics,” says Sandip Gupta, the Group’s Executive Director who from early days remains known for his hands-on approach.
“Our basics are steeped in a family-style of operations and our core staff rallied to face this challenge as one team. While we have grown since inception, the bonds that hold us together are personal, emotion ties of mutual understanding, sacrifice, sharing, caring for each other. This crisis brought us closer. We decided that we would find good in this by pooling in our ideas, resources, effort, innovation and ‘will-do’ attitude and outlast the storm.”
This may well have been possible since the Group was always lean and agile but the sector’s woes extended beyond just human resources.
“This crisis impacted us all not just the entertainment sector. Our suppliers and landlords were just as hurt and fortunately, we have cultivated strong bonds of understanding with them too,” says Sekhri.
“We decided this was the time to float or sink together. So, yes, this pain was a great teacher. It divided the strong from the weak, the courageous from the timid and creative from the conformists. It also created new leaders – people who saw this as an opportunity to improve from, not a catastrophe to be consumed by.”
Sandip Gupta, Executive Director (L) & Sandeep Sekhri, Founder (R).
“One Team, One Dream has passed the test of time and now it is time to shine in this new light of confidence, belief in ourselves and devotion to our customer.” — Sandip Gupta
Dragonfly in Central.
“I’ve had an unshakeable faith in the Hong Kong people. They are passionate go-getters, pragmatic, sensible and resilient. Hong Kong will rebound to shine brighter than before. It always does,” says Sekhri full of admiration for the people of the city that’s come to be his own.
“At Dining Concepts the glow will continue to shine as we prospect for opportunities at home and Asia-wide. Our focus will be on what we do best – provide entertainment venues with that ‘wow’ factor for which we have a reputation. Signature bars, restaurants will be a mainstay. Alongside, we think much more needs to be done to reassure the outside world that Hong Kong is back to normal. A concerted effort is required to inspire and invigorate the industry that to a large extent keeps tourists coming and continues to provide an upbeat mood to those at home,” Sekhri suggests.
Gordon Ramsay’s maze Grill Hong Kong.
The Future is…Now
Day-to-day operations, is very much the purview of Gupta, who says the pulse of the market is critical for the success of a diverse-yet-united Group like Dining Concepts.
“The market is an unpredictable creature. It has no habits. It is uncontrollable,” says Gupta. “What we can control though, is our tenacity, agility, team-work and sharp eye for detail. Many think our business is a battle between volumes and margins. It is much more than that. It is about handling people. You see just how good you are at it during times like these. So, every step of the way, we have kept a sharp eye out for nurturing, leading by example and more important sharing the blame when things don’t go well. As a team we have been teachers and students to and of each other. The same brand of people-management we pass on to dealing with our customers. Dining Concepts have never taken the customer for granted. Every suggestion, every recommendation, every complaint has been dealt with, used to improve and amaze the customer. These elements share the backbone that keeps the Group standing in times of great trial,” Gupta says. “Our future is always the present. This is our secret. This is our strength. This is way of life at Dining Concepts. The Group is not a collection of people, but of hearts. One Team, One Dream has passed the test of time and now it is time to shine in this new light of confidence, belief in ourselves and devotion to our customer.”
For additional information, please visit www.diningconcepts.com
Hong Kong’s Business Leaders share market and interest intelligence in the pages of HKMVC 2020