'Food makes everything tick’
2008-06-26 15:27:22 -
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SANDY HAZEL speaks to Asheesh Dewan, founder of the Jaipur chain of Indian-influenced restaurants...

Asheesh Dewan moved to Ireland for the love of a woman. “Her name is Rupa, and I came here because of her,” he says. The couple met in India, where he had completed his Master’s in hotel management and was training as a chef. “After my studies I decided that this was definitely for me,” he remembers. “I loved it, particularly the Italian and French cuisine.” With a few years of experience under his belt, Dewan opened one of the first Italian restaurants in India at a Hyatt Regency hotel. “That was in the early ’90s,” says Dewan. “The hotels in India usually had an Indian restaurant to keep the tourists happy, but more of them were bringing in French and Italian too, which the Indians were starting to enjoy. There was also a big influence from Chinese cooking, and Indonesian cooking in India became truly international around then.” Dewan’s experience made him the perfect candidate for the expansion of Indian cuisine into Hyatt’s hotels abroad. “I was travelling a lot, all over the world, planning and setting up restaurants for Hyatt in their hotels. It also involved recruitment and training of staff.” It was during this period that Dewan could see for himself how the world was changing. “

The world of catering, cooking and cuisine was becoming more progressive. People wanted more taste and variety, they were more demanding. In particular people wanted more from Indian food.” He admits that at that time Indian food, outside of India, was “very flat, almost generic. A set type of menu cooked in a certain number of ways. We were changing that concept.” When Dewan married Rupa, they made the decision for him to relocate to Ireland as long-distance commuting was not conducive to a happy relationship. The couple naturally used their culinary expertise to set up a restaurant. “Although I had the experience, local knowledge is hugely important,” says Dewan. “Essentially we knew that the UK experience of Indian restaurants was going to be different to the Irish experience and expectations.” They soon put in an application for their first restaurant, a redevelopment at 41 South Great Georges Street in Dublin, and the first Jaipur opened in 1998. “At the time it was not a very happening place so it was a bit of a risk,” says Dewan. The couple got to work, changing the look and the menu in a way that surprised Dubliners, but in a good way. “It was different to what people were expecting of an Indian restaurant, but we got a small following and they stayed with us,” recalls Dewan.

“Reviews were consistently good and after a year and a half the business took off. “Sometimes things can be a bit slow to grow, but a slow burner of a restaurant has a better chance of long term success than the overnight sensations that are incredibly busy for a few months and then the crowd is gone, on to the next fashionable place to be seen. We are here for the long haul.” Dewan does not depend on favourable reviews for custom. “A review can be so subjective. We will just keep doing what we are doing anyway as we know it is good and people like it.” With business on George’s Street going great, the couple were confident to grow their brand and have since expanded to open Jaipur restaurants in Dalkey, Ongar, Malahide and Greystones. Jaipur now employs 90 people in Ireland. Not all locations work to the same formula, however. “We were offering an early bird menu at Ongar which just wasn’t being taken up by customers,” explains Dewan. “This meal was popular at our other restaurants so we couldn’t understand it. We started to ask around and get more local knowledge.”

Dewan discovered that the timing of the early bird menu at the Jaipur in Ongar coincided exactly with the commute of the local residents who were working in Dublin. “Obviously we had to change the times to suit these people and we made it later so they could avail of it,” he says. But while scheduling is important, it’s what’s on the plate that’s the key. “Food makes everything tick,” says Dewan. “You can have the fanciest room but it’s the food that will make the place work. A fantastic venue with great views will not last if the food isn’t up to it.”

Asheesh Dewan is the winner of the permanent tsb Ethnic Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2008.

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