The Switch: How restauranteur Gauri Devidayal’s Bombay dreams turned the table(s) for her
After a decade of computing numbers, she finally decided to mint some of her own. Safe to say that idea turned ‘The Table(s)” for Gauri Devidayal. She may have been an accidental restaurateur, but her success was no accident. The fine-dining corral, ‘The Table,’ tucked away in quaint Colaba, but lustrous on the country’s food map is this star restaurateur and her husband’s brainchild. It has been a darling haunt for critics and a guilty-pleasure for the foodies of Bombay since its inception four years ago, and the ecstatic owner can’t even begin to express her wonder and delight at the fire it started on the Bombay restaurant scene, and in turn, her life. Read on to know how Gauri Devidayal made that Bombay dream her reality in this exclusive interview with Binjal Shah for SheThePeople.TV
Was being a restaurateur always a dream?
Not mine! It was more my husband, Jay Yousuf’s dream. He’s a techie from San Francisco who always dreamed of coming to India and opening an SF inspired restaurant! I got roped into helping him when I realised he was being serious. But I haven’t looked back a single day.
When you left your high-paying finance job to start The Table, was it an easy decision? What was going through your mind, and what finally made you take the plunge?
I had been in the business world for 9 years and am a qualified Chartered Accountant and Law graduate from London. I had been on a great career track in my accounting profession. As such, I had never thought of doing anything different so it did seem like a big plunge into the unknown. Having said that, my husband was investing a lot by way of effort and monetarily in this project and I wanted to see him succeed, so it seemed a no-brainer for me to help him where I could. At first it was a part time involvement, but as we got further into the project, I realised I needed to be fully involved and I was happy to make the switch. The good thing is that I continue to use my accounting and legal knowledge to manage the business.
How did the concept of The Table come about?
Jay spent 15 years in San Francisco before returning to India in 2007. SF is one of the food capitals of the world and he had some of the best meals of his life during his years there. Back in 2007-08, the Bombay restaurant scene was still quite underdeveloped and there was huge scope for new restaurants. As he had always wanted to open a restaurant, a San Francisco style restaurant was the most obvious concept to him.
The workforce of permit-givers and license-enforcers is entirely male-dominated in India. Did that act as a hurdle to you while initially setting up?
Jay and I were equally involved in setting up The Table. For the very reason you mention, the licensing process was his responsibility. Having said that, he often dragged me to meetings because he felt that the officers were less likely to be ‘bureaucratic’ in front of a woman.
You’re living the Bombay Dream, with the wildly successful restaurant in arguably the most vibrant city of the country. What part of this life do you love the most? Especially as a woman entrepreneur?
I’m certainly proud of what we’ve achieved and it’s incredibly rewarding when colleagues in the industry, media, friends and family also recognise the achievement. Five years ago I would never have dreamed of being where I am today so I’ve surprised myself with what I’m capable of. And then of course there are the fun aspects, like doing a photo-shoot for Vogue – I mean which girl hasn’t dreamt of being featured there?
What does the future hold for The Table?
Hopefully more restaurants in the future! We will also shortly be launching our catering operation in a very chic warehouse space in Byculla where besides a central kitchen space, we also plan to have master classes with visiting chefs, underground pop-up dinners, etc. Watch this space for more!
In India, women are seen to manage the kitchen at home, but the ones at restaurants are dominated by male chefs. Any explanation for this paradoxical situation?
The heat in a restaurant kitchen is nothing quite like the heat in a home kitchen, metaphorically speaking. Secondly, chefs spend virtually all their working hours in the kitchen. These may have been some of the reasons why commercial kitchens were male dominated previously. That has changed in recent times with many female chefs making their mark (Ritu Dalmia, Pooja Dhingra, to name a few).
President of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) says he predicts a rise in the number of female chef-owners opening restaurants in the larger cities throughout India. What do you think kept women from the industry all this while, and how is that changing?
One thing I’ve learnt from my last five years at The Table is that running a restaurant is a 24/7 job. If not physically at the restaurant, one still needs to be available to the team at any time especially when it comes to emergencies of which there seem to be plenty! Also, there is invariably a significant investment involved in setting up a restaurant and to add to that, it’s an industry with one of the highest failure rates. Furthermore, as you mentioned previously, the male dominated licensing process is enough to put anyone off. These may be some of the reasons that have kept women away. However, given the significant growth of the industry and organised support groups such as the NRAI, the thought of opening a restaurant today seems less intimidating to many.