Hong Kong has no shortage of visionaries nor entrepreneurs. Yet, few can claim to have built a living, thriving, even thrilling business from more sense than dollars!  The unassuming duo, founder SANDEEP SEKHRI and his executive director SANDIP GUPTA have written a bold new chapter in Hong Kong’s culinary history. It is much more than a mere chapter of great food and fine wine. It is an epic saga of courage, strength, sacrifice, resilience and unshakable faith.

Fate dealt Sandeep Sekhri a hand in 2002. The young, spirited hospitality professional suddenly found himself at cross roads with no road signs to show the way.

Was the dead-end a new beginning? Should he take this lonely transparent stairway? There were no answers, no writing on the wall. Little did the young Sekhri know that that was the magic moment—the moment that would forever mark, his tryst with destiny.

In the absence of no direction, there remained only one option—to turn inward. He did. And it was within, where he found the seeds from which grew today’s iconic Dining Concepts – a company that has carved a niche for itself as Hong Kong’s undisputed market leader for spectacular dining and entertainment – offerings – with a spell-binding difference.

Dining Concepts is the brainchild of SANDEEP SEKHRI, an Indian entrepreneur who dared to dream. Armed with a keen sense of fair play, a sharp eye for detail and a deep understanding of customer behavior, his indomitable spirit led him to craft a shining, spectacular new face of Hong Kong’s dining and nightlife scene!

It’s All About Value

“Serving a market that works hard and plays harder, one quickly learns the nature of this particular customer,” says Sandeep Sekhri, founder of Dining Concepts. “We are serving a very discerning, sophisticated, cash-rich yet value-conscious market that is and has every right to be, spoilt for choice. To woo this market is merely a first step. Retaining the customer is the real challenge. You need to be constantly changing, impressing, while keeping your value consistent. This is incredibly hard to do in an environment of escalating costs and shrinking human resources.”

Gordon Ramsay’s maze Grill Hong Kong – A new Harbour City restaurant located in the stunning glasshouse extension at Ocean Terminal

“We have been pragmatic in our general approach but I am quite a trusting person by nature. The Dining Concepts management team is proof that in a world so divided, the power of trust still reigns. My trust in them (staff) has been well rewarded.”

Sekhri’s balancing act though has borne fruit with many of the Group’s outlets dominating popular social media thanks to ecstatic customers and their glamorous selfies. Cocktails at Dear Lily, Dragonfly and Iron Fairies remain Instagram hotties, while Bread Street Kitchen, Spiga, Al Molo rule the roost as restaurants to see and be seen in. The Group’s relatively recent foray into healthy, all-day snack-type fare has brought Hong Kong diners — Le Pain Quotidien — which from day one, remains a runaway success.

“We have been pragmatic in our general approach but I am quite a trusting person by nature. The Dining Concepts management team is proof that in a world so divided, the power of trust still reigns. My trust in them (staff) has been well rewarded.” – Sandeep Sekhri

Art of Growth

Every Restaurant, eaterie and bar has one chief mainstay—authenticity. From the tableware to the ingredients, from the menus to the décor, every single aspect has to be true to its claim, Sekhri insists.

“Our customers are well traveled with extremely developed tastes. They know their food and wine. To capture is not enough. You have to captivate. You have to offer a holistic experience, impress enough to make them your best advertisers. You have to feel the pulse of your customer to provide just the right degree of the wow factor.”    

Sites like Tripadvisor and Open Rice boast glowing reviews of Dining Concepts restaurants and with of course the occasional suggestions.

“We thrive on feedback. Our mission is to exceed and if we have fallen short, we need to know how. It’s been our attitude since Bombay Dreams (the Group’s flagship and first Indian restaurant) opened its doors.”

Since Bombay Dreams, the Group has grown to nearly 30 (at the time of writing) restaurants, eateries and bars many of which boast signature chefs like Gordon Ramsay.

The Group’s listing on the GEMS exchange in 2016 and its more recent acquisition last year have truly placed the Group in a category of its own.

Could he have ever imagined or even hoped for such success?

“Honestly, no. I take one moment at a time and in that moment I do all I am capable of. I don’t look back but if I were to look back, I’d be glad that fate dealt me that tough hand in 2002. It brought out what I didn’t know I had in me.”

Success Secrets

BONDS OF TRUST: Sandip Gupta, Executive Director (L) & Sandeep Sekhri, Founder (R).

Reviewing Dining Concepts’ phenomenal trek to the top, one can’t help but wonder where Sekhri went right.

“It’s a combination of a few factors,” he says. “We are essentially a ‘people’ business. Our journey is not a solo one. It is inclusive of not only our customers and staff but also the landlords, suppliers, event-organizing partners etc. The trick is to always offer people a win-win solution so we grow together, because of each other. I have always been a people’s person and that’s worked to our advantage. My main strength though is Dining Concepts’ tireless hand—the will and vision of my executive director and close friend Sandip Gupta.

Gupta joined Sekhri before Bombay Dreams opened its doors. Leaving behind a glittering professional path in India, Gupta took the leap of faith based only on his belief in Sekhri.

“Of course, I had no idea of what we were capable of building together but there was something about this man (Sekhri). I knew from the start that he was a hard worker, smart and capable but most of all I knew he was a man of his word. He would not let me down. I packed up and the rest is history,” Gupta says.

“There is no success formula. You have to live the dream. There are no shortcuts. You take out only as much as you put in. That’s the bottom line,” – Sandip Gupta

No Shortcut to Success  

Gupta sports a ‘boy-next-door’ personality. Unassuming, approachable, tenacious, he deftly handles the Group’s operations with a dedicated and experienced team of professionals who’ve risen from the ranks.

A juggling act by any standards, Gupta performs a near 24/7 role, guiding the destiny of one of Hong Kong’s more spectacular success stories. With the opening of its bars, longer operational hours means more work for the management team but it is a commitment well enjoyed.

“There is no success formula. You have to live the dream. There are no shortcuts. You take out only as much as you put in. That’s the bottom line,” says Gupta.

He adds: “My chemistry with Sekhri seems written in the stars and we are bound by trust. I have a free hand to run the Group and he trusts me completely. We are of one mind, one vision and we agree to disagree. That’s what makes us stronger. We complement each other.”

SPIGA in Central.

Change is Coming

Now that Dining Concepts has turned the corner, Sekhri says there will be a host of new opportunities locally and regionally, some of which could be franchising options, new real estate acquisitions, new restaurants and bars but whatever the future may hold, the commitment to quality and value will remain.

Gupta says: “We will continue to grow as the Dining Concepts family, offering to our customers what we ourselves would expect from a genuine service provider. Authenticity, character, value and commitment to providing that ‘wow’ factor will remain the Dining Concepts hallmark.”

“Our strength is our self-driven staff who continue to push boundaries, explore new paths to progress, welcome customer-feedback, find new ways to amaze customers and add value to our collective effort. Dining Concepts is about enhancing lives, creating rainbows, uplifting spirits, putting smiles on faces. We have built a team that lives by the ‘One Team, One Dream’ motto. What makes us a formidable force for progress is that we take humble pride in the quality of our work. We do everything with a sense of integrity and that’s the main difference,” says Gupta.

“We are more than just food and drink. We are about creating unforgettable, unique, unbeatable experiences that impact, become part of our customer’s lives. If there is a secret to our success then it is in the sincerity with which we serve,” concludes Gupta.

For additional information, please visit www.diningconcepts.com

Hong Kong’s Business Leaders share market and interest intelligence in the pages of HKMVC 2019