Life changing assignment, Shangri-La Bengaluru.
Back in 2014 I was working in the lovely Shangri-La Guangzhou, taking care a culinary operation of 220 chefs and overlooking the operation of 8 F&B outlets.
After few years working there, I felt the need to move on and discover a new challenge, flavors and cultures. With this in mind, I started looking at potential openings within the company. After working in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East, by that time I was looking for something special, rich in experience. In other words, I was looking for something that could complete me as a chef and a person.
The searching process continued until an opening came up in Bengaluru, India, which was the pre-opening for a large project of 397 rooms with 8 F&B outlets. Now, openings are never easy, and I said to myself, “Antonio this could be the opportunity which you were looking for.” I then had a quick chat with my wife and done – I applied for the job!
After few days I was contacted from the HR there, and then from the General Manager who was Jens Corder, a truly gentleman. Once I passed through a few rounds of interviews, I was offered the position. This made me very happy, in spite of several people around warning me about pre-openings not being easy, especially for a hotel of that size.
With that in mind and with the consciousness of a big challenge ahead, I started thinking and planning for this opening from China two months away from my India assignment.
One of the first things I did was looking for advices, and contacted some professionals with pre-opening experience to get their insight. In a humble way I asked for advices that was all penned down. After that I started to study the Bengaluru market from afar, which turned out to be very helpful. The last exercise I did, which was also very helpful, I took pictures of all my kitchens and equipment in order for me to understand what kind of operating equipment was needed and related quantities. Because when you working in an already operating hotel, all is there and usually you don’t think about it, is there already! But thinking to put a hotel together is a different ball game! Nothing is there and all need to be plan!
After few weeks I was ready and fully charged for the new challenge. I landed in India the 18th of March 2014, fully armed. I still remember the first day at work when I offloaded my bag full of books, manuals, pre-opening support papers, and other materials, My director of HR said to me, “Chef, I can see you have a lot of weapons to open one the most iconic hotels in south East Asia.”
When I arrived in Bangalore, I was pleasantly surprised about the city. Lots of green space and warm people were already working in this project. I jumped in the task right away. I remember my General Manager giving me the best advice ever, which was: “Antonio, this is a big project and you will have a lot of tasks to handle, so the key of success is one task at the time, close it and then move on to the next one!” And this advice from Mr. Corder became the motto for my team and me. One task at a time, and then move to the next fast!
With this in mind I started working. For the first 3 months I was by myself, then my assistant Nishesh Seth came, and shortly my secretary Indu Priya also came. The three of us quickly started working together as one team with one vision and goal: open the best and the largest F&B operation of Bengaluru and South India.
My first task was to share my vision with the team and create a solid foundation for the future to come. We first started to analyze the hotel from a growing perspective. The hotel structure when we arrived was a big and huge piece of concrete taking shape every day. So for us was no point looking at the hotel at the time. Instead we focused on tender drawings, elevation drawings, renderings, color swatches and all other related materials.
After understanding the study stage we started to plan and take some serious action, then we jumped in the HEOS stage. This very critical stage had lots of elements to consider with a big budget to handle – definitely you don’t want make any mistake on this else you are done!!!
With further analysis on this, Nishesh and myself decided to choose only one vendor in order to control the same very closely. This was a winning decision. We were able to manage the task closely & quickly, with some savings as well which was very much appreciated from the top bosses! The way we handled this task gave as a lot of trust and everyone was charged up to the maximum.
Next task was to start thinking about our restaurants and which characteristics they should have. At that stage we said before we start planning our restaurants we should know what the others are doing. Others??? Yes! Bangalore is a very competitive city with premium five star hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Oberoi, Leela Palace, ITC, just to name a few, and in addition to that lots of freestanding successful establishments. The task was not easy. We started to survey all of them every day for two months, almost every day, until we understood all the strength and weakness of our competitors. Lesson: Before you open a hotel or a restaurant you should know your competitors and the market that you are in! Please allow me to say that, to some extend we knew about our competitors more than what few employees knew about their own work place!
With all of this information on hand, we started to develop our restaurants, the goal being to create something different, something special, something unique, something funky. During this process all of the team came out with another motto, which was so inspiring, and funny, the new motto was: “don’t be that guy”. Make something different and don’t just be another hotel in the city.
Slowly, slowly we completed all of the restaurant concepts, statements and then all of the menus, lots of stuff, you cannot imagine! I still remember the endless meetings with Rakesh Nambiar, our Director of Events; he was never happy and pushed us to create something special for the banquet division, which we managed to create the world famous Shangri-la Bengaluru banquet menu pack! More than a thousand dishes from different cuisines from Indian to Italian to Chinese to Vietnamese, “What a job”! Finally, Rakesh was very happy and confident to sell it to the market. ‘Rule number two’: keep your sales team happy.
In the meanwhile other talents joined the team and we welcomed our Sous Chef for the All Day Dining (ADD), Mr Padma; the new Executive Pastry Chef Daniel; and the Executive Sous Chef western cuisine Devesh; ADD Chef de Cuisine Rounak Kinger; Ssaffron Chef de Cuisine Lakhbir Chalal Singh. This was another exciting time seeing the team coming together. We spent lots of time selecting the right candidates to take the head of each restaurant and we used all of the resources available as much as possible: our career web site, LinkedIn, Facebook. During some points of the recruitment process, I was overwhelmed by the demand, with literally hundreds and hundreds CVs to review. Again there, applying our first motto of one task at the time, I focused first recruiting the managers and when I had all of them on board, they started to recruited their own team.
This was exactly what happened and this was when I handed over the tasks that previously were handled from Nishesh and myself. As a result, from that point we were able to shift our focus to the big picture which was coming closer and closer with the opening date, and as we were looking start the operation of this brand new hotel.
This truly was an exciting time. The hotel site was coming along very nicely and we all started to feel the place more and more, with more chefs coming on board, more ideas came in the picture and also some great food concepts too.
The time came and the project team started to handover the building to us. With this, the snagging process of checking the hotel structure started. One by one all of the kitchens were snagged and the team started to take over their own areas. B café, our ADD was fabulous, I almost couldn’t believe the beauty of this place, this place came together day after day with a lot of dedication and hard work and was beautiful like a Michelangelo sculpture. Also Shang Palace, Ssaffron, Yataii, Caprese and hype, they came together beautifully, we were all very proud!
The taking over of the commissary kitchen was a different feeling; we got a very high-tech area with a lot of workspace and well thought food flow process. From day one we understood the majesty of this place and the great potential we had on hand, especially looking to the whole production/bulk area connected to banqueting division.
Something that was quite new and interesting for me was the whole Pooja blessing process. This was followed after the handover stage for each area – very interesting – from the blessings of the equipment with boiling milk ceremony to the personal blessings from the Pooja master.
From this point on all was moving very fast. The starting date was set and the countdown began and at this point, no room for mistakes. As planned, all the equipment came in way before the opening date and we had the chance for mock set ups for the grand opening. In the meantime, the restaurant simulations began, the working days shifted from a planning stage to full operation and action, lots of action and excitement all around.
All of the team was so happy to open this iconic place. The D-day finally came, and the hotel magically opened…. what an experience opening this hotel from the beginning, definitely this opening is a milestone for me…a life changing assignment!
Today I can proudly say that Shangri-la Bangalore is a very successful hotel in Bangalore market and also is a benchmark hotel for the whole India hotel industry!
I would like to tank you all the colleagues support me in this life changing project and a special tanks goes to my entire team which supported me from day one!