On A Long Drive

  K Prakash Shetty chats with RITZ about his forthcoming plans

He has all the qualities of an heir to a business empire. He’s young and ambitious, industrious and innovative, boasts posh degrees and international work experience, and most of all is humble and grounded. Gaurav Shetty, the dashing scion of MRG Group and son of hospitality and infrastructure icon K Prakash Shetty chats with RITZ about his forthcoming plans amidst a busy schedule that involves the launch of g77 Cafe, a rustic themed restopub in the heart of Bengaluru’s party crucible.

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Gaurav looks dapper in a crisp white shirt as he welcomes guests to g77 Cafe, a brand new chill-out zone that promises an eclectic blend of not just bites and beverages, but even cutlery, crockery and glassware. “Every dish that comes from the kitchen and the bar is presented in a unique manner,” says Gaurav. There are ‘melting pots’- pani puri shells with veggies/chicken and topped with cheese and ‘nachos bhel’ – two exotic takes on the ubiquitous chaat offered everywhere. The charming quirks of this place extend to the crockery as well. So we’re presented with egg burji served in an egg holder, burgers ushered in a bright red miniature telephone booth, an iron box utilised effectively for serving mutton pepper fry, and a jar with a sculpture of the Belgian Manneken Pis brimming with long island iced tea.

Gaurav says that not just the food, but even the crockery used for serving has to be distinct “to pull in the crowds.” He was inspired by the cafes, lounges and pubs in London and Paris, during his multiple visits to the two hipster cities where there is a huge market for the unconventional and the offbeat. The idea for g77 (‘g’ standing for MRG Group’s Goldfinch Hotels and 77 being a lucky number for his family) came while he was out on a late night drive near the airport road. “Yeah I get new ideas while I’m driving,” he says.

Gaurav is extremely passionate about cars. He enjoys driving at night through different parts of Bengaluru and finds the whole act of being behind the steering wheel a therapeutic experience, one that leaves him feeling refreshed and recharged. We sure believe him, what with his fleet of 9 premium and luxury cars from brands like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes to Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini. “I drive when I’m a bit tense or upset and even otherwise.” Upon closer observation, you realise that white is the dominant colour in his fleet. “White is many favourite colour. Especially in cars,” laughs Gaurav, a teetotaller who initially wanted g77 Café to have mainly food and mocktails on the menu. “I got a new team and they said let’s also add in drinks and cocktails.”

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Gaurav joined the MRG Group around 2013, after graduating from the Swiss Hotel Management School and getting trained at Fairmount, Switzerland and the Taj Group.  At MRG, he’s been hands-on with hospitality, adding that he’s personally more inclined towards food and beverages.

So what’s it that he’s ideated and implemented that’s worked in the group’s favour over the years? “We were more into building (Goldfinch) hotels from scratch. To build a hotel takes upto three years. So I’d suggested the idea of acquiring existing hotels and then re-branding them. We’ve done that in Mumbai and Delhi,” he says, referring to the group’s acquisition of 4-star hotels like Express Sarovar Portico near Delhi and Aura Grande in Mumbai in 2015.

These acquisitions marked MRG’s foray into the intensely competitive Mumbai-Delhi markets. Is buying and re-branding easier than building from scratch? “Certainly. But it is also challenging as you have to get your standards right in a running hotel.” So will the group look to build hotels or make more buys? “Yes I would like for us to build as well. But if there is an opportunity to buy and if the location is ideal, I would want to do that,” he says without getting into the specifics.

Gaurav appears optimistic about expanding the Goldfinch brand, a well-recognised chain of fine boutique hotels that are known for their sophisticated interiors and contemporary outlook. Presently, there are six Goldfinch properties and he reveals that many more are slated to open across Mumbai, Puducherry, Mangalore, Chikamaglur and Bengaluru. So in the next five years, we would see 12 more Goldfinch hotels, is what Gaurav asserts. Although hospitality is competitive, there is room for growth, with the industry itself zooming at over 14% growth each year. And running parallel to its plans of setting up new properties and executing buyouts, the MRG Group also has an association with Hilton and Marriott through which they would build the hotel and then hand it over to the two global brands to run. “We would be the owners, but Hilton and Marriott will operate the hotels. The properties in turn will be co-branded,” he states.

Just like developing more Goldfinch hotels, Gaurav is equally keen on opening more restaurants over the next few years, around 30-35 spread across India. MRG operates brands such as Kabab Studio, Banjara Melting Pot, Banjara The Restaurant, Sana-di-ge, Kudla, Legacy of Punjab, and the lounge bar Aviator.

The turnover for the hospitality division of the MRG Group was around Rs 78 crores last year, and is projected to be over Rs 100 crores this year, due to the new properties.

“Our restaurant brands were mostly inside our hotels. We’re now focused on more standalone ones. Sana-di-ge recently opened in Delhi as a standalone restaurant and the response has been phenomenal.”

Talking of Sana-di-ge, Gaurav had once suggested to his father to introduce the delicious elneeru payasam (tender coconut kheer) at this restaurant. “Dad liked the idea and we implemented it. The payasam has received tremendous response and has even won awards.”

Working with a parent is a unique experience by itself. What has the young man imbibed from Prakash Shetty, a prominent name on the hospitality and infrastructure scene? “Dad has an eye for detail. And he is very strong on the financial side. The learnings and the experience I’ve garnered working with him is incomparable to what I’ve learnt otherwise,” says the proud son who begins his day by discussing business with his father each morning and gaining sound advice.

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But is what he’s doing now something he’s always wanted to do? “Yes,” he smiles. If not in hospitality, where would he be? “I’d be a cricketer. I was a batsman and I played extensively for my school and college.” Running parallel to his zest for cricket (and cars) is his fixation with shopping. When he takes a break from being a workaholic, he’s a bonafide shopaholic. If stressed, he’d rather go online and shop for shoes, clothes or accessories. But mostly in white. Or black. After then probably in blue. “90% of my wardrobe is in white and black,” grins Gaurav.

So what’s his one goal now with regards to the MRG group? “I want my group to grow. It’s like my family and all those who work with us are like my family members. I would want my family to grow. If they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Fast 5 With Gaurav

Favoured destination – London, for sure. For the food, for the place, for everything

You’re hungry for – Chinese and North Indian food

Style statement  –  Style matters a lot, as does the comfort factor

Crazy about – shoes. I own at least 75 pairs!

Most glamorous car – Lamborghini