Sid Mathur – The Man Who’s Quietly Revolutionising The Indian F&B Industry

He’s the head of Food & Beverage at the food conglomerate that rolled out culinary smashers like Social and Smoke House Deli, Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality. He’s the founder of the city’s go to food consulting company, Secret Ingredient. He’s the founder of Khoya and is revolutionising how we see mithai. He’s the co-founder of the city’s blockbuster oriental food festival, Asian Hawkers Market. He’s a partner in the meteorically expanding QSR, Wai Wai City. Do you feel bad about not moving that tushie from the couch all weekend? Because whilst you did that, Siddharth Mathur just went double or nothing with a Royal Flush in hand. He dons multiple professional hats with more skill than a Tuscan nonna rolling out ravioli. Wait up, wait up; allow us to throw another egg in your face. He somehow manages all of the above AND has a personal life, carving out quality time for his daughter, Leela and stunning wife, Batasha.

With nine years of experience in private banking & equity trading in London, 2009 saw Sid trading in the numbers for his ardour for food, and this deal between the head & heart beckoned him home. His curious palate ensured a passionate love affair with all things food – experiments with ingredients, cuisines, and restaurants from across the globe navigated him back to his safe zone a.k.a the kitchen. He’s under the radar, he’s got a skill-set derived from intuition and has the odd ability to spot a 0.0000000001 carat diamond in a mine of coal. Which is why we were far from surprised when he recently bagged the much-deserved ‘Best Restaurant Consultant/Business Mentor of the Year’ award. Unveiling the journey of this food entrepreneur with #DSSCSecretConversations, we catch up with Sid Mathur as he preps for yet another edition of AHM.

From banking in London to food consulting in India – tell us about your journey from CitiGroup to Impresario.

Sid: Food was always my hobby. I would get back from work and read chef biographies, research recipes, cook, and discover new restaurants. When the credit crisis hit private banking in 2008, it was evident that the financial markets needed time to stabilise, so I thought, here is my chance! When I resigned, my boss said, “I am only going to accept this if you’re leaving to open a restaurant.” Back in India, I went to meet my old friend, Riyaaz Amlani to seek his help regarding the same. Multiple conversations and multiple meals later, we decided to combine forces on a project – Smoke House Room. It was during this time that Riyaaz suggested I invest with Impresario and become the Head of Food & Beverages for the group. It was truly the best case scenario – I spend my time with all things food, rather than worrying about all the other (non-food) variables that come with starting your own restaurant.

You’ve consulted brands like Swiggy and Select Citywalk via your food consulting company, Secret Ingredient. What led to its inception?

Sid: During conversations with friends, restaurateurs, and chefs, I came to realise that I had an instinct to come up with quick solutions for restaurants and food establishments. I came from a client centric background and had always been good at understanding & advising people, all whilst putting the client first. This coupled with the fact that there were no real food advisory groups, the move was obvious. It allows me to work on diverse and interesting projects, so no two months are ever the same.

Social at Asian Hawkers Market

How did Asian Hawkers Market come about? (We actually mean to ask, how do you have the time to host the city’s largest oriental food festival!)

Sid: Sourish Bhattacharya, Atul Sikand, Tanveer Kwatra, and I make an interesting team. We have different strengths & networks, and it works very well when combined! We met for coffee one day and our discussions turned to how we could create a food festival with a difference. Tanveer had spent time in Australia, and told us about an Asian Food Festival that he had enjoyed visiting. Considering it’s the country’s second most popular cuisine choice (after Indian), the dye had been cast, and this October witnesses the Asian Hawkers Market 5th Edition at Select Citywalk.

We hear Wai Wai City’s new creations are a result of your experimentations in the kitchen. Tell us more about it.

Sid (chuckling): The Chaudhary Group tasked us with creating a QSR format using Wai Wai Noodles. So, we started experimenting in our own kitchen, using the noodles in various formats with different sauces and recipes. The versatility and taste of the noodles in themselves was phenomenal, and we knew we were onto something good. I partnered with the CG Group with this venture, and today there are already 11 Wai Wai City outlets across the country, with a target of reaching 40 by the end of this year in India, and expansion across UAE, Canada, and Nepal.

Sid Mathur with wife, Batasha, and daughter, Leela

You make us green with envy with your artful skill of multitasking. What’s your magic formula for the evasive work-life balance?

Sid: When I was with Citi Private Bank in London, I learnt a valuable lesson on work-life balance – it’s essential! Even though this is the busiest I have ever been, I work twice as hard on weekdays to ensure I can spend quality time with my daughter on weekends. I wake up with her every morning at 6:45 a.m. and drop her to school when I can. I never want to regret not having spent enough time with her.

P.S: At 3, she already has a very discerning taste in food. Her all time favourite is meat curry, rice, and as many marrow bones as she can chew on!

You’ve been observing the F&B industry with a keen eye. What are your thoughts on its evolution in the last five years?

Sid: The country is witnessing a consistent move towards value. More and more people are being allured towards F&B and there is a boom in first-time restaurateurs. Armed with social media and CSR Tools, restaurants are expanding their reach. However, very few standalone restaurants actually break the bank. Products need to have the ability to scale. There is also significantly less space for manoeuvre in the QSR industry.

The missus, Batasha is a wizard in the kitchen. Tell us more about how she’s contributed to your journey?

Sid: I always thought I was a great home cook, until I met Batasha! She has great instincts in the kitchen and has a talent for whipping out her own recipes. When we created Khoya, she was instrumental in recipe development & sourcing of organic/natural ingredients. Whenever I get stuck, she is my go-to advisor.

 

Throughout the interview, our one eye and one ear is on the wonderful banter in the background between Batasha & Leela. With 4 more hours of work for AHM, we know Sid has a long night ahead of him where he may need an oil tanker for that work lantern shining into the wee hours of the night. As they start chatting about what’s the menu for supper, we pull out our signature rapid fire and dart some chopsticks his way.

 

Your most intriguing food experience till date?

Sid: My first date with my wife. A 13-course French Kaiseki dinner, and probably the only dinner of my life where I can’t remember what we ate.

One thing you love about the industry? And one thing you hate?

Sid: Love the people. Hate the regulatory obstacles.

One piece of advice for young entrepreneurs starting out in the industry?

Sid: Think thrice, it’s not all peaches & cream.

Top 3 restaurants in Delhi (not including your own)?

Sid: Indian Accent, Artusi, and Have More.

Your go-to dish at Social?

Sid: Butter Chicken Biryani.

Any new ventures popping out of your magic hat anytime soon?

Sid: There are plenty of ideas, but most of them are on a slow simmer for now.

 

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.

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