Pervin Todiwala: The story of Café Spice Namasté
Our dream is have a Todiwala collection with our sons, bringing together their creative aspect into the business. They would take this business into a new dimension – says Pervin Todiwala
By Gina McAdam
How did the idea of Cafe Spice came to you?
We were working in a much smaller restaurant down the road from Prescot Street where we are now, called ‘Namaste’ when we were invited by restaurateur cum entrepreneur, Michael Gottlieb, to go into partnership with him in the much larger Cafe Spice Namaste. Around 10 years later, we took over the ownership of the entire restaurant.
How do you remember the first steps while growing Cafe SpiceNamaste?
The early years were a period of discovery and growth but also of hard work which was ultimately extremely rewarding. Very early on, we were given a glowing review by one of London’s top restaurant critics, Fay Maschler, and from then on we never looked back. People were excited by Cyrus’ new approach to Indian cuisine. It was something entirely fresh in the UK, where people were used to flocked wall paper and dishes that most people in India have never heard of. We worked very hard, as we still do now and we inherited some of our staff which brought its own challenges. Asian men can sometimes be ambivalent about having women in the workplace, particularly in the kitchen where (regardless of where you are and the inroads that have been made over the past few years) there is still a strong macho culture, I had to learn to steel myself and adopt a demeanour that projected authority.
Cyrus and I focussed a lot on training and equipping our staff – many of whom could not speak very much English – with the tools necessary to work and live well in the UK. Most of them are still with us today. We were the first restaurant to gain a National Training Award and become an Investors in People Champion.
It is a cliché, but from the beginning our customers’ wellbeing always came first, in parallel with our staff’s wellbeing. We have always taken care of our customers and I make it a point to remember each and every one, preferably by name. When we reached our milestone 10th anniversary, we thought of a way of honouring them and so we came out with an anniversary menu with their favourite dishes renamed after them. It was a hoot.
I had to learn to steel myself and adopt a demeanour that projected authority
What was the main purpose and expectations?
We are Parsees, and our mantra is ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’. We try to live by this every day. We always wanted to make a difference – and first and foremost our goal was to offer the best authentic Indian food anyone has ever tasted. But underlying all of that has been our Parsee ethos of creating a legacy so everything we do is geared towards the long term and money is secondary; it is a means to an end. We always wanted to support the environment and local producers and suppliers. We are committed to staff training and training tomorrow’s chefs. We continue to do so till this day, particularly with the competition that Cyrus founded, ‘Zest Quest Asia’, which aims to stimulate interest in Asian cookery and cuisine among home grown chefs. This not only helps to spread the knowledge and skills of authentic, classical Asian cuisine but goes some way to addressing the skills shortages that the £3 billion Asian food industry – which includes 80,000 restaurants — is experiencing today.
Have your dreams come true with CafÃ© Spice?
We continue to strive, but the fact we have grown –with ‘The Park Café’ in Victoria Park East, and currently two hotel restaurants in the UK, ‘Mr Todiwals’s Kitchen’ in Hilton London Heathrow T5 and ‘Assado’ at the Hampton Waterloo – is something we are thankful for.
Who are your customers and how do you maintain long-term relationships with them?
Our customers are a good cross-section. In the beginning we used to be considered a City, ‘expense account’ restaurant but that has changed in the past few years. We still enjoy a good bulk of our business from the City – and some of our longest standing clients who have become friends such as Nick Gooding, Ipe Jacob and Tony Bond, first came to us because they worked nearby.
We owe our success to our customers…
But today our customers come from all over the UK and from many parts of the world including Japan, the Philippines, Germany, France, Sweden and the USA. We try to serve them the best we can, and Cyrus is a genius in always coming up with something new and exciting to share with them. This year we are starting year-long celebrations of our 20th anniversary. We owe our success to our customers.
Indian cuisine is very popular – has this helped you to have more success in your business?
It depends on what you mean by popular, or what Indian cuisine you consider popular. As a whole, yes, Indian cuisine has been embraced in the UK because of our unique history. That of course has been a great launching pad. But I think what has made us successful is our ability to innovate; Cyrus is a pioneering craftsman in the kitchen, but he also has a deep, almost incisive knowledge of food and food history. This allows us to deliver food that can be totally unexpected. One of our greatest personal and professional successes has been to raise the profile of Indian, Parsee and Goan food into the mainstream.
This year we are starting year-long celebrations of our 20th anniversary…
What is your favourite dish?
Mine is TANDOORI GOOSNARGH DUCK SAUSAGE and GOAN PRAWN CURRY
What are the benefits and disadvantages of a couple working together?
Benefits outweigh disadvantages – I always have to watch Cyrus’s back and that helps for the benefit of the business. The disadvantage is that we live in a man’s world and there can be only one captain of the ship.
Who takes the business decisions?
Every business decision is a collective decision, reached through collaboration with our team, who have a stake in our business too.
Who cooks at home?
How do you manage time together out of the business?
We try and do things with friends and also take holidays together, never separate.
What is your future dream?
Our dream is have a Todiwala collection with our sons, bringing together their creative aspect into the business. They would take this business into a new dimension. We have also set up a Todiwala Foundation with which we hope to support education in the Asian hospitality sector. Our elder son Jamsheed has already started his own line of products from alcohol to platters etc.
To discover more about Café Spice and the cuisine, go to http://cafespice.co.uk